Newest 'Sesame Street' Muppet has a mom struggling to overcome addiction

Karli, a character in foster care, explains to young viewers that her mother is "going through a tough time."
Karli and Elmo talk about her mom's "grown up problem."Zach Hyman/Sesame Workshop
/ Source: TODAY
By Alexander Kacala

A "Sesame Street" character named Karli is about to help young children affected by addiction to realize they are not alone.

Back in May, "Sesame Street" introduced its newest Muppet, Karli, 6, who had just moved in with a foster family. Now her storyline is going one step further as audience members learn why she had to stay with her "for now" family: Karli's mother is dealing with addiction, and her addiction is a sickness that is not Karli's fault.

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"What Karli does is she helps bring to life an issue that a lot of people think of as a grown up issue, and don't understand the impact on young children," Sherrie Westin, president of social impact and philanthropy of the Sesame Workshop, told TODAY.

In the United States, there are nearly 6 million children under the age of 11 living with a parent who has a substance abuse problem. That's why "Sesame Street" is launching a new parental addiction initiative, Westin said.

Karli won't appear on the actual television show just yet; she was created for the online initiative. As her storyline develops, fans of the show will learn why she was placed in foster care: her mother had to go away for treatment, but now she’s back home and in recovery. The new resources, which help children like Karli understand the situation and cope with big feelings, are free and available in English and Spanish.

"My mom's been going through a tough time," Karli told TODAY. "She has what's called a grown up problem. And grown up problems need grown ups to help fix the problem, so my mom had to go away for a little while."

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In another clip, Karli shares what she has learned through her own experience.

"If you're going through a tough time, I've learned that it's OK to be sad or mad or scared because, well, sometimes when you love someone so much, and when they're going through a tough time, sometimes it makes you feel sad and scared, but that's OK," she says. "It's OK to talk about those things. It feels good to talk about those things."

Through videos like these, "Sesame Street" aims to help children feel less alone, build resilience and develop coping strategies.

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Westin adds: "When you understand the impact it has on young children, and the trauma that it can cause, the impact that has on their healthy development, you realize why it's so important that we're creating tools to help address these issues."

This is not the first time "Sesame Street" has used cute, accessible Muppets to tackle heavy topics with its young viewers. Last year, the show addressed children who experience homelessness through the eyes of a 7-year-old Muppet named Lily.

In 2017, the show welcomed Julia, a 4-year-old who has autism. In 2013, "Sesame Street" introduced Alex, the first Muppet to have a dad in jail.

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Alexander Kacala