Connected Communities: The TBRI® Podcast

We’re excited to announce the launch of Connected Communities, The TBRI® Podcast!

Our first episode gives an overview of the history of our Institute and Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®). This conversation between host Sarah Mercado and Dr. David Cross emphasized why connection is even more crucial in a global pandemic.


Show Notes

Linked references from this episode

About our Guest

Dr. David Cross is the Rees-Jones Director of the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development and a Professor in the TCU Department of Psychology. Dr. Cross leads the Institute in its triple mission of research, education and outreach to improve the lives of children who have experienced abuse, neglect, and/or trauma. He has authored many peer-reviewed publications about issues regarding at-risk children.

Dr. Cross earned his B.S. from California State University Fresno with a major in Psychology, and then attended The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for graduate study, beginning in 1980.  He earned an M.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in Statistics. He later earned a Ph.D. in Education and Psychology.  In 1985, he accepted a position as Assistant Professor in TCU’s Department of Psychology.

Dr. Cross, with his former colleague Dr. Karyn Purvis, co-authored “The Connected Child: Bringing Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family” to help adoptive parents understand the needs of children who have experienced trauma. “The Connected Child” continues to be a best-seller among adoption books. Together, Drs. Purvis and Cross created Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®), a holistic, attachment based, trauma-informed, and evidence-based intervention for children who have experienced relational trauma.

Dr. Cross and his staff at the Institute regularly train professionals from around the world in TBRI®. The Institute is actively engaged in research that not only demonstrates the efficacy of TBRI® as an evidence-based intervention, but also in research about how to grow trauma-informed organizations and communities.

In addition to his responsibilities at the Institute, Dr. Cross has taught many TCU courses including Case Studies in Child Development, Generalized Linear Models, and Graduate Developmental Psychology.


About the Host

Sarah Mercado is a Training Specialist with the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development (KPICD). As training specialist, Sarah’s main focus is instructing professionals working with children who have experienced trauma, in Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®). TBRI®, a holistic, attachment-based, and trauma-informed intervention designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children, offers practical tools for caregivers to help those in their care reach their highest potential.

Sarah earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Sweet Briar College in Virginia. She began her career as a direct care staff working with adolescent boys living in a Residential Treatment Center (RTC). After serving in the RTC for several years, she shifted her focus to foster care, where she was Regional Director for a foster and adoption agency.

Sarah spent 20 years serving youth and families within residential and foster care settings as a direct-care worker and trainer before beginning her work with the Purvis Institute in May 2016. Sarah lives near Austin, TX with her husband, AJ, and their two children.

Fostering Fatherhood

Using the Role of Fathers to Promote Healing in Children with Histories of Trauma

by: Sarah Wayer

“The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature.”

—Antoine François Prévost, Manon Lescaut

Growing-up, my family had a unique dynamic. In my family, my dad assumed the role of a stay-at-home dad while my mom took the role of the breadwinner. I remember many summer afternoons spent picking blueberries, ‘driving’ the tractor, or running daily errands together. My dad was the one who volunteered at church camps, picked us up from school, and helped with homework. That is not say that my mom was not involved. However, the first ten years of my life were marked by consistent paternal involvement. I didn’t realize how special those experiences were until I entered elementary school where I quickly learned my relationship with my dad was a rarity. It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to wonder how the connection with my dad might affect the development of my identity. This curiosity is what sparked my interest and research on fatherhood. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it is estimated that one in four, or 19.7 million, children in America grow up without a father in the home. The sad reality is that, for many people, when it comes to the concept of a father, there is more trauma than security. Thankfully, there is always hope. Where there is hurt, there is an opportunity for healing. The research I’ve compiled and following suggestions are designed to support fathers as they develop relationships with their children and heal the wounds left in the wake of trauma.

Fathers, you have an incredible and unique role to play in the lives of your children. The research shows that fathers naturally empower their children to explore, take chances, be brave, and stand-up for themselves within the context of play. There is a beautiful balance between discipline and exploration found in the father-child relationship. Let me illustrate with an example:

A study conducted in France, observed fathers and mothers at a children’s swim class. Researchers noted that mothers were often in the water and spent more time within their children’s line of sight. In contrast, fathers often encouraged their children from behind or outside of the child’s view. Whether the children were in the care of the father or the care of the mother, they were safe. However, fathers were pushing their children to be brave and take initiative in unfamiliar situations.

For me, this was, both, fascinating and relatable. My dad was a disciplinarian, but he always pushed me to try new things, to explore the world, and to get a little messy in the process. Much like the father in the study, my dad stood behind and encouraged me to jump in to ‘deep end’ of life. I was always safe, but I had to be brave.

I also thought this finding has important implications when considering the effect of a healthy father-child relationship and children with histories of trauma. For many of these children, they were robbed of a voice. For many of these children, fear marked their early years. For many of these children, shame has taken root and the confidence needed to explore the world is essentially non-existent. Therefore, I would argue, a relationship that promotes bravery, exploration, confidence, and gives voice is necessary to give back what trauma took.

So, this begs the question: How do we support the role of the father to bring healing to children who have histories trauma and broken relationships? Based on my compilation of research I believe there are two strategies fathers can use to build connection with their children. First, there is a need for paternal support groups to allow fathers to find community, process their histories, discuss struggles in parenting, and the effects of modern masculinity on the expectation of fatherhood. If they are not readily available, I highly recommend fathers seek support from other fathers. Studies are revealing that this support is an important reminder that you are not alone in your journey and this support provides a community of collective wisdom to problem-solve together. Secondly, evidence has shown that fathers seem to primarily connect through play. Based on this evidence, I say incorporate play into everything you do. Play communicates safety and creates a sense of shared joy. I encourage fathers to look for opportunities to challenge and encourage your child(ren) but remain attuned enough to know when play should cease, and care should be given.

So, whether you are a biological father, foster father, adoptive father, or father figure, please know you are so important to the children in your care. Their relationship with you is unlike any other. I want to take a moment to honor and thank my father and fathers worldwide. Thank you for teaching me about dedication and determination so I know that when I fall, I will also rise again. Thank you for challenging me to step outside my comfort zone because you knew I had so much to learn. Thank you for making me brave by reminding me of how beautiful the world truly is. Thank you for being proud of me. I wouldn’t be who I am today without your care and commitment to me.



Sarah is a DETR Master’s student at the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University due to graduate in August 2020. Sarah is a firm believer in the healing power of relationships and principles found in TBRI. Through her mission work in eSwatini, Africa and participation in TBRI camps, she has witnessed the changes families experience when provided with trauma-informed care and support. Sarah has a passion for working with families and children who have experienced trauma and hopes to, one day, facilitate TBRI implementation on global scale. 

Research References:

U.S. Census Bureau. (2018). Living arrangements of children under 18 years old: 1960 to present. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau

Study as cited in: Paquette, D. (2004). Theorizing the father-child relationship: Mechanisms and developmental Outcomes. Human Devlopment, 47(4), 193-219. 10.1159/000078723


On Trust-Based Relationships and Confronting Racism

Editor’s note: Our team at the institute is deeply grieved for the recent events rooted in racial injustice in this country. A recent event close to our own community has made it even more clear that we as an institute must take a decisive and clear stance against racism. Our staff has had many conversations over the past weeks, and Research Scientiest, Erin Razuri so eloquently captured our thoughts and feelings in this message.

To be a member of the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development is to fundamentally believe in hope and healing. To live the tenets of Trust-Based Relational Intervention® and let them permeate every aspect of your mind, body, and soul until you see the whole world through a TBRI® lens. To put relationships first. To believe, above all else, that connection and trust are central to our humanity. To choose to model love, understanding that our children will learn what they live. To commit to bringing felt-safety, giving voice, looking for the need behind the behavior. To do all of these things is to whole-heartedly join Karyn’s Army.

At this moment, it is difficult to believe in hope and healing. It is even difficult to be a member of this community that we hold so dear, because we have been broken open by the hurt and pain of racism. We have seen it in our midst, closer than we could have imagined, and we are deeply shaken. (more…)

The Connected Parent


by: Ashley West

We’re thrilled to announce the release of The Connected Parent, co-authored by Dr. Karyn Purvis, the Institute’s late Founder and Director. This book is Dr. Purvis’ last written work, and we at the Institute are overjoyed that families everywhere  will continue to benefit from her words and wisdom.

As the release of The Connected Parent draws closer, I sat down with co-author Lisa Qualls and Emmelie Pickett, the book’s contributing writer and institute Communications Coordinator to talk about the process behind writing The Connected Parent and the book’s upcoming release.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your introduction to Dr. Purvis and her work:

Lisa: My name is Lisa Qualls and I’ve been married to my husband Russ for 36 years. I have 12 children altogether by birth and adoption. We have also been foster parents as well. I live in North Idaho.

Before we adopted, I had a background in mental health and worked for a group home, so when we adopted, I thought I was really prepared having been a mother for almost 20 years. This thinking completely changed due to some of the challenges and behaviors we experienced after our adoption. I was desperately looking for help when a reader of my blog asked if I had heard of Dr. Karyn Purvis and suggested I read The Connected Child. I read the book and watched a couple of videos Dr. Purvis had created. I remember watching the videos and thinking,  “If she can have hope for my kids, I can too”. (more…)

Behavior is the Language of Unmet Needs

by: Amanda Purvis

At the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development we strive to help children heal from trauma, abuse, and neglect. Historically, we have responded to national and international issues from the lens of healing trauma. The current unrest resulting from structural racism, institutional racism, and individual racism in America  requires us to address racial trauma in a clear and decisive way.

As a white woman, raising black boys and girls, I do not have the ability to hide behind privilege or white fragility. Even if I wanted to. The following narrative is how I, a thirty-something white mom, am trying to parent my children. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do believe that Trust Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®) and it’s attachment-based, sensory-rich, trauma-informed practices have given me a lens of understanding for how to begin bracing my children for what lies ahead of them. (more…)

Little Victories

Editors note: At the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development, we strive to help children heal from the effects of trauma, abuse, and neglect through trusting relationships. This guiding principle informs all we do. It is the lens through which we view everything and the current news events stemming from violence and racism in America are no different. These events are traumatic and trauma-inducing. As we think about our piece in bringing solutions to these important issues, we humbly offer this perspective: relational problems can only be healed relationally.

by: Dr. David Cross

I am afraid. I can’t remember ever being more afraid than I am right now. But if I am afraid, what must the children be feeling? And what must all of the vulnerable ones be feeling? I am angry. I can’t remember ever being more angry than I am right now. But if I am angry, what must the bypassed ones be feeling? And what must those whose rights have been violated be feeling? I am hurting. I am hurting because so many of my fellow Americans are hurting. My pain has become unbearable, but if my pain is unbearable, what of the pain of the children, of the vulnerable, of the bypassed, of the violated? What must their pain feel like? (more…)

To the TCU Child Development Class of 2020

Dear 2020 Child Development Graduates,

Congratulations on earning your college degree, I am so proud of you!

Now, I have two questions for you.

  • What is your stress level on a scale from 1 to 10? With 1 being low and 10 being high AND
  • What are you doing for self-care?

I asked you these questions every time we met for class and I hope you continue to ask yourselves these questions and give voice to your bodies and spirits, especially in this strange time.  (more…)

Small Steps Make a Big Difference

by: Emmelie Pickett

As TCU students shelter in place in their respective homes, one child development student is taking the opportunity to give back to her hometown. Alexandra Reynoso, a graduating senior, saw a need for providing food for disadvantaged families in Houston, TX, and wanted to help.

TCU child development senior, Alex Reynoso, with donations for Small Steps Nurturing Center.


On Resilience and the Coronavirus

by: Dr. David Cross

I like newspapers, and my favorite newspaper is The New York Times.  A few weeks ago I read a column by David Brooks, titled “Mental Health in the Age of the Coronavirus.”  In it, he touched on the core principles of our work at the KPICD.  In just a few words, he captured the essence of trauma and connection.  Or at least he did so as much as anyone can capture the “essence” of such a complex topic in just a few words.

At the end of his column, David Brooks posed two questions, and readers were encouraged to submit written responses to each.  The first question was, “In what ways are the coronavirus and isolation affecting you psychologically?”  The second questions was, “What are you doing to stay mentally well?” (more…)

Thanking the Caregivers

Samantha Singer connects with a camper at Hope Connection 2.0

Beyond the threat of contracting COVID-19, the ripple effects of the virus impact every person, including the most vulnerable among us: children who are at-risk. Shelter-in-place orders have been established to keep us safe from the virus, but sadly, for many children this means staying home with an abuser. Samantha Singer, TCU Child Development alumna and master’s of developmental trauma student, wanted to help. (more…)