Historically, PBS KIDS – from Mr. Rogers to Electric Company to Odd Squad have been at the forefront of ensuring that those who are chronically under-represented in the media are better represented. The education specialists and producers at PBS KIDS work mindfully to portray multiple cultures, abilities, and backgrounds – not merely in trite, surface ways, but as multidimensional characters with agency. From some of the first characters of color, to showing Buffy St. Marie (Cree Tribe) normalizing breastfeeding, to smart girls like Molly of Denali and kind-hearted boys like Elmo, to the autistic character Julia.
Now Sesame Street is introducing you to Karli, who lives with her foster family. “My mom can’t be with me right now, even though she loves me very much,” Karli tells Elmo in a scene titled “A Heart Can Grow.” It’s all part of Sesame Workshop’s new initiative to offer support to children, foster parents, and providers who serve foster families. Children in foster care often experience many transitions—from their separation from birth parents, to their placement in foster care, to many moves—and the new resources are designed to help children in crisis cope along the way.
In response to the introduction of Karli, social media is erupting with messages posted by fostering families reaching out to others who may be thinking about fostering. Kids who grew up in foster families are posting, “thank you for representing me.”
The number of children in foster care in the US has grown for five consecutive years. In 2017, nearly 443,000 children spent time in foster care—6 out of every 1,000 children in the US. Every 47 seconds a child is abused or neglected, and children under age 6 made up nearly half of all child maltreatment cases in 2015. Over 40 percent of all children in foster care in 2016 were under age 6.
Once again, Sesame Street and public media fill the gap.