Sesame Street tackles tough issues of opioids around young children in Baltimore
Tevis Simon was never sure which mother she’d see when she was growing up in West Baltimore.
“I knew that if my mom had her drugs, that she was fun, Mommy. And if she didn't, then she was mean mommy,” Simon said.
Simon’s mother was addicted to opioids and her struggle with the drug led to an environment of abuse and neglect at times.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 4.2% of children in the United States live in a household where one or more of the parents misuse opioids.
“The experience of having a parent with an opioid use disorder is traumatic for children,” said Ruth Paris, an associate professor at Boston University who specializes in early childhood trauma.
Sesame Workshop is using a $1.3 million grant from the Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts to build some of the first and only curriculum specifically catered to young children whose parents are dealing with addiction.
“We created the resources specifically for understanding parental addiction from a child's and a young child's point of view,” said Jeanette Betancourt, the senior vice president for U.S. social impact at Sesame Workshop. “We have videos explaining parental addiction, there were also documentaries of actual children indicating their experiences along with a story book and other resources that can be easily distributed.”
Those materials were developed by teams of child psychologists, addictions experts and other people with knowledge in children’s development and addiction.
You won’t be seeing the videos on the classic Sesame Street television show, however, the materials are made for people like social workers and therapists to use with families.
They try to help explain, in simple terms, questions children may have about addiction. For example, there’s a video where a neighbor on Sesame Street explains to Muppets Elmo and Karli why Karli’s mother needs to attend meetings about recovery.
Simon said a resource like that would have been beneficial for her growing up.
“If there were a Muppet at the time, that was talking about parents going through addiction, and how that makes their children feel and how they recognize that they feel alone and scared and some children are abused verbally and physically,” she said. “It would have helped me not go into this downward spiral so much.”
Sesame Workshop's materials are available to anyone on their website.