Dr. Karyn Purvis was the Rees-Jones Director and co-founder of the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX., the co-creator of Trust-Based Relational Intervention®, co-author of a best-selling book in the adoption genre, and a passionate and effective advocate for children. She coined the term “children from hard places” to describe the children she loved and served, those who have suffered trauma, abuse, neglect or other adverse conditions early in life. Her research-based philosophy for healing harmed children centered on earning trust and building deep emotional connections to anchor and empower them.
Among academics, she was a respected researcher, demonstrating how a child’s behavior, neurochemistry and life trajectory can change given the right environment. Among parents, she was an authoritative speaker and writer and trainer. Many adoptive parents, who marveled at her innate ability to playfully connect and see the real heart of a child, revered her as a “child whisperer.” To the thousands of children whose lives she touched, she was warmly known as “Miss Karyn, the queen of bubble gum!’’
A mother, grandmother, foster parent, pastor’s wife and developmental psychologist, Dr. Purvis devoted her life to serving children. In the last decade, she and her team at the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development taught and inspired tens of thousands of parents, professionals, foreign dignitaries, political leaders, orphanage and adoption workers, lawmakers, judges, and child advocates around the world about the need for trauma-informed care and trust-based interventions for vulnerable children.
“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.”
It was a calling that came early in her life.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 31, 1949, Karyn was the second of four children of Othal and Kay Brand. Her parents met and married in Quantico, Va., after serving time in the Marines during WWII. In 1954 the family moved to McAllen, Texas where her father became one of the world’s largest onion growers and a longtime mayor of McAllen.
A self-described “daddy’s girl,” Karyn recalled accompanying her father into the slums of McAllen, where he distributed food and worked to improve living conditions for migrant workers. She watched her mother offer aide to the sick and elderly in her neighborhood and church. As a child, she took in stray and wounded animals. As a teenager, she mentored at-risk children at school and trained horses.
By age 20, she married Burton Purvis, a graduating senior she met at Howard Payne University, a small southern Baptist college in Brownwood, TX. She quit school after her sophomore year to move with her husband, a new minister, to Daytona Beach, Florida, where the couple started a ministry for street kids. She spent the next 30 years of her life raising her own sons and ministering alongside her husband as the embodiment of the ideal pastor’s wife, trusted and loved. Besides rescuing stray and injured animals, she loved to create beautiful crafts and calligraphy of Scripture.
At age 47, as her sons began college, Karyn returned to school to complete her undergraduate degree. In 1999, she and her mentor and advisor Dr. Cross offered a summer camp for adopted children as a research project toward her doctorate in child development. Parents reported such dramatic improvements with their children, they clamored for more help. That camp became The Hope Connection, and after more research and more camps, Karyn added PhD to her title as a psychologist – at the age of 53.
Just a few years later, in 2005, TCU formally created the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development to house and to advance the work of Dr. Purvis and Dr. Cross. Over the course of the next decade, they teamed up to write their acclaimed book, The Connected Child, and to create a holistic, comprehensive, research-based approach to healing vulnerable children called Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI).
In just over a decade under Dr. Purvis’ leadership, the message and teachings of the Institute have increased exponentially to reach an audience spanning the U.S. and more than 25 other countries around the world. Her passion and novel, research-proven insight led to interviews and news coverage in Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, KERA Radio, Dateline NBC, Focus on the Family, Parents Magazine, Fort Worth Weekly and countless other media outlets, blogs and webinars.
In 2008, then-Governor Rick Perry appointed her to chair a statewide committee tasked with raising standards for children in foster care. The National Council on Adoption honored Dr. Purvis with the title of Distinguished Fellow in Adoption and Child Development. She has received the James Hammerstein Award, the T. Berry Brazelton award for Infant Mental Health Advocacy, a Health Care Hero award from the Dallas Business Journal and numerous other awards and honors for her work on behalf of children.
What mattered most to Dr. Purvis, however, was not the accolades, but seeing real change and healing in the lives of children and their families. She was driven to make a difference. And this work became her life purpose. She believed passionately and fervently in the power of hope, knowledge and prayer.
“I had strength from my faith and I had the confidence that serving children was my calling,’’ she told an interviewer.
“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, which is not rhetoric for our Institute, “ Dr. Purvis said. “We truly are learning to change the world for children. ’’
In late 2016, the Institute changed its name to Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development to honor the life and legacy of its late founder. The work of Dr. Purvis continues to flourish at the Institute where her team remains fiercely committed to changing the world for children.