Building Resilient Children

Sesame Workshop Karli
Photo courtesy of Finn Larsen/Sesame Workshop

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind “Sesame Street,” is partnering with Family League of Baltimore to bring its Sesame Street in Communities initiative to Baltimore.

To kick-off the launch, Sesame Workshop is airing a Family Digital Special on Facebook Premier on Tuesday, Oct. 6, at 2 p.m.

The special, which was filmed in Patterson Park, will host some familiar Muppets—Elmo, Karli, Rosita and more—and will feature children’s questions with answers from experts in the community, including Demaune Millard, CEO of Family League of Baltimore. A Spanish-language version will premiere later this month, and both will be available to re-watch on Facebook and YouTube.

One segment of the special will focus on COVID-19 and the challenges faced by both parents and children. Families will learn coping mechanisms and ways to engage in productive conversations with each other.

Another section will shine a spotlight on parental addiction and the difficulties families are facing with managing recovery during a pandemic. Viewers will get an update on the Muppet Karli, who lives in foster care and whose mom is currently in treatment.

“We’re recognizing the level of courage that kids in the Baltimore community have, and more importantly focusing on their resilience and the feelings they experience,” says Millard.

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Sesame Workshop Elmo
Photo courtesy of Ryan Donnell/Sesame Workshop

Sesame Street in Communities

The mission of Sesame Street in Communities is to provide Sesame Workshop’s resources in literacy, numeracy, healthy habits and helping families manage through difficult times and tough topics to community-based organizations serving vulnerable kids and families.

Thanks to a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the initiative is expanding to more communities across the nation, with a particular focus on helping families cope with and work through parental addiction. Interested in teaming up with a city already working to combat drug issues, Sesame Street in Communities chose Baltimore because of the its proactive engagement about the opioid crisis and Family League, a data-driven nonprofit that promotes collaborative initiatives and resource allocation to improve outcomes for children, families and communities, as its local partner.

“For us, what stood out with Family League is that they’re working in a collective impact model within the community and looking at all the different facets that relate to supporting families,” says Rochelle Haynes, vice president of the U.S. social impact team for Sesame Street in Communities.

“What really solidified the partnership was how data driven and informed they are,” says Millard. “We were already on the same page when it came to looking at the allocation of resources and investments made to children through a comprehensive approach. We see how every child is part of a family and how every family is an integral part of the community.”

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Family League will be incorporating the initiative into their Family Recovery Program as well as in their work to support DRUM, a Healthy Families America visiting program for families with pregnant women and children under the age of five who live in neighborhoods with a high risk of poor birth outcomes and school readiness.

Sesame Street in Communities will provide Family League with additional family-friendly tools and resources focusing on difficult topics that families may be managing, including homelessness, parental incarceration and addiction, and living in the foster care system.

With the support of Sesame Workshop, Family League will be better able to look at the outcomes and impacts of their resources, including how many people are being served and how well they’re being served.

Sesame Workshop Abby Cadabby
Photo Courtesy of Ryan Heffernan/Sesame Workshop

Building Resilient Children 

“‘Sesame Street’ has the advantage of being a trusted brand with the kind of credibility that allows us to open doors to conversations that might not have been had, such as drug addiction,” says Haynes.

Haynes points out that when it comes to addiction, people typically think of adults and teens, but not about how it impacts young kids. Sesame Street in Communities hopes to put a spotlight on their needs and the resources needed to build resilient children.

Another key component of the Sesame Workshop and Family League partnership is to raise awareness of trauma and adverse childhood experiences.

The Baltimore City Council this past February enacted the Trauma-Responsive Care Act, aimed at increasing trauma response information and care to help reduce violence. Family League is hoping to carry forth the momentum established by the new legislation and help set down concrete steps for trauma care.

“Within the city of Baltimore, 42% of adults have experienced three or more traumatic experiences, compared to the state-wide average of 24%, and 56% of Baltimore City children have experienced one or more instances in relation to traumatic events,” says Millard.

Both Sesame Street in Communities and Family League want to speak about trauma in a way where it’s not stigmatized, and instead help families navigate through the challenges by sharing resources and creating connections.

“The new city policy created a solid connection and opportunity for building synergy,” Millard says. “Congressman Cummings always said that our children are the living messages to the future we’ll never see. This is an opportunity to solidify that future.”


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