‘Sesame Street’ character addresses child homelessness

Sophia and Lily, courtesy Sesame Workshop

Meet Lily, an optimistic 7-year old Muppet who’s experienced homelessness. Now her family is staying with friends on Sesame Street after losing their home.

Lily is the star of a new initiative on family homelessness launching today on Sesame Street in Communities. The resources offer children and families help, hope and healing—because the trauma of not having a permanent place to stay can carry profound and long-lasting effects if young children don’t receive the support they need. Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind “Sesame Street,” launched the initiative to help mitigate the impact of the trauma and stigma that result from homelessness.

The initiative grew out of a deep and heartbreaking need. 2.5 million children in America go to sleep without a home of their own each year, and about half are children under six – that’s 1 in every 18 children. According to the Office of Head Start, there has been a 100 percent increase in enrollment of children experiencing homelessness in Head Start and Early Head Start programs over the past decade, with 2016-17 marking a record number. Despite those staggering numbers and the fact that homelessness is on the rise, there is a lack of resources specifically for young children and the providers who serve them. With this new initiative, Sesame Workshop hopes to change that.

The new content includes a wealth of professional development resources for providers serving families experiencing homelessness, including teachers, social workers, and healthcare providers. Sesame Workshop is also hosting an conversation on family homelessness via Facebook Live or YouTube on December 13, 2018 at 2 p.m. Hear from a panel of experts working with young children and families across a variety of sectors.

Through its new initiative, Sesame offers a variety of free, bilingual materials specifically developed to help children who are experiencing homelessness, which often involves an ongoing cycle of physical, emotional and psychological distress. The resources were created in partnership with national experts on family homelessness and tested with both providers and parents. Lily was originally introduced in 2011, when her family was struggling with hunger. Unfortunately, Lily’s path is common for many children experiencing homelessness.

“We know children experiencing homelessness are often caught up in a devastating cycle of trauma – the lack of affordable housing, poverty, domestic violence or other trauma that caused them to lose their home, the trauma of actually losing their home and the daily trauma of the uncertainty and insecurity of being homeless,” said Sherrie Westin, President of Global Impact and Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop. “We want to help disrupt that cycle by comforting children, empowering them and giving them hope for the future. We want them to know that they are not alone and home is more than a house or an apartment – home is wherever the love lives.”

Lily, courtesy Sesame Workshop

By featuring Lily and her friends on Sesame Street, the resources are designed to show the experience from a child’s perspective, with Lily and her friends encouraging optimism, promoting understanding and modeling simple coping strategies for children.

The new resources include:

  • “Connect the Dots”: Lily and Sofia play a game that helps Lily feel surrounded by love.
  • “Rainbow Kind of Day”: Lily, Elmo, and Sofia learn the benefits of talking about big feelings and asking for help.
  • “Ribbons of Hope”: After her family finds permanent housing, Lily demonstrates “survivor’s pride” and shares a coping strategy – and a special bracelet – with Elmo.
  • “Home Is…”: Elmo and Rosita meet some new friends who don’t have homes right now and learn about what the concept of “home” means to them.
  • Activities and suggestions to help parents and providers give children a sense of continuity, routine and predictability. The materials include interactive rhyming poems, coloring pages, storybooks and helpful answers to children’s difficult questions. There are also resources that help promote engagement between caregivers and children, as well as ideas for comforting routines that parents can do with children anywhere.
  • New professional development videos, articles, and strategies for providers (social workers, shelter staff, teachers, healthcare workers, and more) who play a crucial role in supporting children experiencing homelessness. The new resources aim to raise awareness and offer strategies for providers who can create a circle of care around children.

“Sesame Street’s new initiative on homelessness is nothing short of transformative for those of us working to create a sense of stability and hope for families experiencing homelessness,” said Barbara Duffield, member of Sesame Workshop’s advisory committee and Executive Director of SchoolHouse Connection, a national non-profit organization working to overcome homelessness through education. “At SchoolHouse Connection, we are eager to use the new materials to increase the identification of children who are homeless in early childhood and educational settings, to increase support for children in homeless services and housing programs, and to raise the visibility of family homelessness among policymakers at every level.”

Sesame Street in Communities is a program to help community providers, parents, and caregivers give children a strong and healthy start. Sesame Street in Communities partners with community providers to reach parents and caregivers with free, easy-to-use resources on topics ranging from healthy eating and school readiness to tougher issues like trauma and grief. The materials, which include videos, storybooks, digital interactives, games, and professional development resources, are available for free – in English and Spanish – at www.sesamestreetincommunities.org.

On social media, we’ll be using the hashtag #sesamecommunity to raise awareness of these new resources this holiday season. We also encourage you to read the great New York Times piece on the announcement here.

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