Sesame Workshop support children affected by parental addiction
The Sector > Workforce > Advocacy > Sesame Workshop launches initiative to support children affected by parental addiction

Sesame Workshop launches initiative to support children affected by parental addiction

by Freya Lucas

October 15, 2019

Sesame Street has welcomed an expanded storyline for one muppet – Karli – whose mother struggles with addiction, in a bid to offer hope and resilience to children who are living with the same issues. 


With almost one in three children coming into the care of child protective services around Australia having a parent with a current or previous addiction problem, it is important to recognise not only the prevalence of addiction, but also that addiction affects everyone in a community, most especially children. 


Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organisation behind Sesame Street, announced an initiative which sits alongside Karli’s presence in the show. Using new videos and other content, Sesame Street favourites such as Elmo and Abby Cadabby learn about Karli’s story, and how they can help their friend to cope. 


Support resources, which are part of the Sesame Street in Communities program, help deliver the key messages children living with parental addiction need to hear most: You are not alone. You will be taken care of. Addiction is a sickness and, as with any sickness, people need help to get better. And most importantly: It’s not your fault.


The resources will be of interest to the Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, with over a million children (22 per cent of all Australian children) estimated to be affected in some way by a parent or carer’s problematic alcohol consumption, and noting that parental alcohol abuse plays a large role in child protection cases, in addition to  alcohol abuse being associated with between 15 and 47 per cent of child abuse cases each year across Australia



Many researchers have noted that children of parents with an alcohol or other drug issue are at increased risk of experiencing poverty and financial stress, trauma, abuse, violence (from both within and outside of the family), family breakdown and separation, exposure to criminal activities, and poor housing and homelessness


With wastewater analysis data, it has been revealed that more than 9.6 tonnes of methylamphetamine is estimated to be consumed in Australia each year, as well as more than 4 tonnes of cocaine, 1.1 tonnes of MDMA, and more than 700 kilograms of heroin, highlighting the prevalence of substance use in the country. 


While the trauma of parental addiction can have lasting impacts on a child’s health and wellbeing, Sesame Workshop said, “children can be incredibly resilient”, noting that the effects of traumatic experiences “can be mitigated with the right support from caring adults like the parents, caregivers, and [service] providers”. 


Created in consultation with experts in addiction and early childhood development, the resources model strategies to help children overcome the trauma of parental addiction and build resilience, while providing age-appropriate messages and tools for those caring adults to help children cope. 


Karli was first introduced in May 2019 as the face of the Sesame Street in Communities foster care initiative. With the recent announcement, Karli’s storyline expands to include the reason she was placed in foster care: her mother had to go away for treatment, but now she’s in recovery. 


The new resources, which help children like Karli understand the situation and cope with big feelings, include age appropriate explanations of what addiction is, seeking support groups, building self esteem, recognising that addiction is not the fault of the child, and a range of live action films where Karli interacts with Salia, a ten year old with lived experience of navigating parental addiction.




Speaking on the new initiative, Jerry Moe, National Director of Children’s Programs at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, a key adviser for the program, said “There have been precious few resources to help young children, so this initiative is a game-changer for the important work we do, and for professionals everywhere, on the front lines of (the) addiction crisis. This fills a huge void for millions of families hurt by addiction and helps kids be kids again.”

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