There’s a new face on Sesame Street.
Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the show, has welcomed Karli, a Muppet in foster care, as well as her “for-now” parents, Dalia and Clem. All three Muppets appear in videos posted online as part of an initiative to provide free resources to caregivers navigating difficult issues, such as family homelessness, foster care and trauma.
“We want foster parents and providers to hear that what they do matters – they have the enormous job of building and rebuilding family structures and children’s sense of safety,” Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president of social impact at Sesame Workshop, said in a statement. “By giving the adults in children’s lives the tools they need – with help from the ‘Sesame Street’ Muppets – we can help both grown-ups and children feel seen and heard and give them a sense of hope for the future.”
Sesame Workshop noted in a release that in 2017, nearly 443,000 children spent time in foster care – a statistic that translates to 6 out of every 1,000 children in the United States.
Karli, a green Muppet with fluffy pigtails, is introduced in an online-only clip called “On Your Team,” in which Dalia and Clem chat with their old friend, Elmo’s father, about becoming foster parents: “Changes like this can be really rough for kids – and for adults, too,” Clem acknowledges. Dalia notes that the experience has “had its ups and downs. But no matter what, we try to let Karli know, we are always here for her.” She then invites Elmo to Pizza Party Tuesday, a new family tradition.
Elmo stops by the pizza party in the second clip, “You Belong,” and Karli excitedly shows her friend heart-shaped place mats designated for each guest. When she realizes that hers has been misplaced, she sadly says, “I don’t have a place.” Elmo asks why Karli is so sad, but she doesn’t want to talk about it. Clem gently takes Karli aside, while Dalia explains to Elmo that being Karli’s “for-now parents” means that they will keep Karli safe until her mother can take care of her again.
“We don’t know for sure when that will be,” Dalia says, “but what we do know is, Karli belongs here for now. We want her here with us. Karli, you have a place at our table.” Dalia begins to sing about their home being a safe space. Karli, Clem and Elmo, who finds the missing place mat, join in.
In the last clip, called “A Heart Can Grow,” Karli shows Elmo an art project that demonstrates how “even when our hearts feel sad and small, they can still grow. The more love they get, the more they grow.”
Karli is the latest newcomer in an effort to make “Sesame Street” more inclusive. In early 2017, Julia, a young Muppet with bright red hair and green eyes, became the first new Muppet in a decade to appear on air. (She was also introduced online first.) Big Bird has a tough time getting Julia’s attention while she paints, but he eventually learns to repeat himself so she’ll listen. It is revealed that she has autism, which, as Abby Cadabby explains, means that Julia “just does things a little differently, in a Julia sort of way.”
“Sometimes, people with autism do something that might seem confusing to you,” Alan (Alan Muraoka) tells Big Bird. “But you know what? Julia also does some things that you might want to try.”
A homeless Muppet named Lily was also introduced in December as a part of Sesame Workshop’s initiative. In the clip “A Rainbow Kind of Day,” Lily and Elmo laugh as they paint a rainbow mural, until she suddenly seems upset. Lily explains that they had gotten to the purple part of the rainbow, which used to be the color of her bedroom before her family had to leave it behind. “We don’t have our own apartment anymore,” she says. “And we’ve been staying in all different kinds of places.”
“Sesame Street,” which began airing in 1969, has a long history of tackling topical issues in a manner approachable to children. Other impactful characters include Kami, a Muppet from the South African version of the show, “Takalani Sesame,” who became the franchise’s first HIV-positive character; Alex, a character whose father is in jail; Segi, a Muppet with an Afro who sings about loving her hair; and Zari, a Muppet on Afghanistan’s “Baghch-e-Simsim” who promotes girls’ rights.