A mother, grandmother, foster parent, pastor’s wife and developmental psychologist, Dr. Karyn Purvis was one of the most influential teachers for adoptive families and the co-founder of the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Purvis devoted her life to serving “children from hard places.”
As the co-creator of Trust-Based Relational Intervention® and co-author of The Connected Child, she taught tens of thousands around the world about the need for trauma-informed care and trust-based interventions for vulnerable children. TBRI is an extensive training curriculum for caregivers of children who have experienced trauma. She was a passionate advocate for children who suffered trauma, abuse, neglect or other adverse conditions early in life. Dr. Purvis' research and the modalities she created gave us the vocabulary to articulate what children from hard places need — and we are able to better understand their behaviors and what underlies those behaviors because of her work. Because of the effects of trauma on brain development, children often act out in unexpected ways.
"What appears to be inexplicable behaviors are often survival and coping strategies," explained Dr. Purvis. "They act this way simply because they don't know any other way."
Her research showed that these coping mechanisms manifest themselves in different ways, including anxiety, lack of trust, intense fears, aggressive outbursts and avoidant behaviors. She found that severe trauma affects brain growth on a physical level, leading children who have been abused or neglected to suffer in their development of cognitive processing and emotional regulation. Higher level brain growth is stunted, leaving some children at as little as half their age in cognitive functions. Lower level brain functions, which control instinctive flight or fight responses overdevelop as a response to trauma. Dr. Purvis believed that no child was beyond help.
“If I could tell you my dream for every child in the world it would be to imagine a world where the cry of every child is met by a loving compassionate adult,” she once told an interviewer. “Giving voice to children is the heart and soul of what we do.”
Dr. Purvis passed in 2016 after a battle with cancer. Thanks to Dr. Purvis’s innovation and leadership, those of us who work closely with children in care have a greater understanding of what these children need to heal and reach their highest potential. If you want to learn more about Dr. Purvis' work, check out the resources on the TCU Institute of Child Development's website.
“If I have planted, and farmed the soil well, those who come after me, and after them and after them, will be wiser and more well-equipped and more able to continue our mission.”
— Dr. Karyn Purvis