Foster children in our society can feel entirely unseen. Becoming a foster child can feel shameful and you quickly get the cultural message that you shouldn’t bring it up. Assumptions are made about those children and their families. There’s a stigma. And because of rules about confidentiality, foster kids can feel like their entire identity is a secret they have to keep. They may feel like they’re the only one and depending on their age, they may lack the language to explain their situation. Foster care becomes an unspoken topic, although it impacts many children who are foster kids, kids who live in a home that provides foster care, or are the friends and family members of children who are state wards.
Which is why foster kids need Karli— the newest muppet from Sesame Street who openly talks about the struggles and strengths of being a child in the foster care system. This is a beautiful step forward in normalizing and reducing some of the stigma for kids who are caught in the aftermath of adult decisions they couldn’t control, but are intimately impacted by. Karli can help those kids put words to their life experiences. She can help them find hope. She can let them know they aren’t alone. And for kids who are friends with foster children or are living in a home that provides foster care, she can help answer their questions and provide an empathetic, insider view of the process.
The script writers have done a beautiful job sensitively portraying the realities of foster care. It’s clear they have intentionally thought through the language they use to be sure Karli’s parents are treated with respect and described with the love a child has for her family, even if her family is struggling. The foster parents are also shown as people who love Karli for however long she’s with them. I’ve never felt more solidarity with a muppet as I did when I watched Karli’s foster parents comfort her after a meltdown. These muppet foster parents have clearly received some training in dealing with trauma. If you’ve been a foster parent, you know how something as simple as a missing placemat can cause a cascade of overwhelming emotions. We learn to sit with our foster children as they work through those feelings, offering love and our presence even when we can’t fix things. To hear Karli’s “for now” mom say, “We WANT her here with us” even as Karli was dealing with her big feelings, brought me to tears. Foster kids need to know they’re wanted— not tolerated, but wanted. Singing words of love over Karli is just what she needs. It’s what every foster child needs.
I love that Elmo asks the question that everyone involved in foster care wants to know. He asks for a timeline. “When will Karli’s mommy be back?” In that simple question, Elmo gives kids permission to wonder what it would be like to be indefinitely separated from your parents. It’s a step that will help kids outside of foster care develop empathy and will help the kids in the foster care system know that someone understands.
In an ideal world, there would be no need for a muppet who has experienced the trauma of family separation. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Until we do, it is a great gift to everyone touched by the foster care system to have a kid-friendly way to introduce this topic. Karli is providing representation to a group of children that is often unseen or only portrayed in unrealistically positive or negative ways. She is opening the door to conversations that may be uncomfortable, but are unavoidable for for the roughly 440,000 kids in foster care today. Giving those children a voice, even a muppet voice, is precious.
Even when hearts feel like they’re breaking, they can still grow bigger and bigger with more love and care. Karli, a young Muppet in foster care, and her friend @Elmo look at what fills up their hearts in this new video on @SesameCommunity. #SesameCommunity pic.twitter.com/GS4DFtd6F6
— Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) May 20, 2019
You may also like: