Written By: Madelyn Lancaster
Sesame Street is a timeless show for children of all ages, races and cultures. I have always respected that. Since its premier in the 1960’s, a time when our country was devastatingly segregated, Sesame Street incorporated people of all races. For a society in which media is fiercely at the forefront, it is comforting to have a show like Sesame Street that focuses on educating its young viewers while also exposing them to diversity and the challenges in the world. Sesame Street encourages tolerance, conflict resolution and emotional intelligence which are difficult yet important traits to learn. In the Sesame Street universe where every puppet and person is embraced for who they are regardless of their gender, background or the color of their fur, it only seems fitting that they would introduce a puppet, Karli, who is in foster care.
Children in foster care have experienced the trauma of being removed from their birth family, in addition to whatever may have occurred that resulted in the removal in the first place. By having a character who is in foster care, Sesame Street is helping to prevent a child in a similar situation from feeling isolated. Currently, there are near 437,000 children in foster care in the United States, 15,000 of which are in Arizona alone. Introducing foster care into the world of Sesame Street gives these children someone that they can relate to while also helping to normalize the idea of children living in foster homes. The show relies strongly on character’s feelings by teaching them how to talk through and deal with their emotions, which can help validate the feelings of children who are living in foster homes. This also gives them insight on how to cope. Karli and the show are a great tool to teach children how to communicate with foster parents, caregivers, social workers and other adults in their lives. On the other side of this, adults watching Sesame Street who have children placed in their home, can gain knowledge as to how their children may be feeling, as well as open doors for discussion to help them process their living situation. These are messages that we aim to reinforce daily at Arizona’s Children Association (AzCA).
Children learn about their own world through what they are exposed to. By watching Sesame Street and seeing this new character, a child will be given the opportunity to connect their experience to Karli, which may provide them with a better understanding of their own lives. Additionally, caregivers are given a non-threatening, kid-friendly way to talk to their own children about foster care.
This important step that Sesame Street has taken with its show is helping to spread awareness. Every day, we work at AzCA to show children in foster homes that they don’t have to feel secluded from the world because their situation is different. To the general public, foster care may seem intimidating because it is misunderstood and can be misconstrued. Having it represented in the media in this way can help change the stigma and show the public that the foster care system changes lives. Representation is crucial in a world where many are judged for not fitting into the norm, giving kids a figure they can look to for support and empathy is crucial.
Madelyn Lancaster is a program coordinator for therapeutic foster care at Arizona’s Children Association and has been in the social work field for 10 years.