Dr. Karyn Purvis is known around the world for helping countless adoptive and foster parents better connect with their children. Her book, “The Connected Child,” has brought hope and healing to families who have taken in children from “hard places.”
She is the director of the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. I had the opportunity to sit down with her and talk about the three things she says every adoptive and foster parent should know, and how it also applies to any parent.
Dr. Purvis has spent the past decade developing research-based interventions for at-risk children.
“The numbers of those children that are harmed are growing exponentially,” she said.
Throughout her life, her personal and professional calling has been to create a welcoming, loving environment for children who come from hard places.
“I started fostering 44 years ago and I can say it’s the most rewarding and the most joyful experiences of my life, but we have to be ready for the journey.”
That journey, she said, involves three major issues.
Dr. Purvis said first, we must understand that these children have significant changes in their brain development, brain chemistry, body, even changes in their biology, leading to a different belief system. And it’s all brought about by abuse or neglect early in their life.
“We know that in children there’s a circuit in the brain that says, ‘I should run from danger,’ and there’s a circuit that says, ‘When I’m in danger, I run to my mommy or I run to my daddy,’” Dr. Purvis said. “But for children coming into protective custody, more often than not statistically, the one they run from is the source of their comfort. So the system for terror and the system for comfort are co-activated and these children don’t know what to believe about relationships and what to do.”
That confusion, Dr. Purvis said, leads to different behaviors.
“The behaviors are the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “If I’m a caregiver or a parent and I understand everything beneath the surface, I am going to have great success in bringing deep healing to this child. But if I only see the behavior, and not what’s behind it, I have missed most of what my child needs.”
The second issue Dr. Purvis says is critical for parents to understand is what they, as parents, bring to the table.
“Many, many God-fearing parents are adopting who have unresolved loss themselves,” she said. “Now, it doesn’t matter that they’ve had loss, but unresolved loss is the issue. That’s because when they’re looking at that child, they’re looking through their own history.
“It impedes their view of this child’s needs because they have unmet needs of their own,” Dr. Purvis said. “It might be that in some ways they have been orphaned emotionally and so they are trying to give water from an empty well.”
The third, and perhaps most important, thing Dr. Purvis wants every family to know who fosters, adopts or cares for vulnerable children is there is great hope for every child.
“I have literally worked around the globe and I have worked literally with the highest-risk children,” she said. “I’ve worked with a number of children who have tried to kill or who have killed and in the many, many years I have done this work, I have never seen a single child that can’t come to deep levels of healing when we understand their needs, what we bring to the table and we are willing to make the sacrifices.”
This psychologist’s knowledge applies to any parent wanting to connect with their child.
“It is simply good child development, but here’s the important thing to know — a child with low risk has a window of parenting that is wide, and this child could have a pretty good outcome because they haven’t been hurt,” she said. “But the more harm a child has had, the more narrow is the window to parenting to success.”
Dr. Purvis said bringing deep healing to children from hard places is simple. It’s just not easy.
“I would just say it’s an amazing journey for any parent that undertakes it,” she said.
Dr. Purvis said, on average, it will take a month per year of age of intensive work for a harmed child’s brain to catch up with what it lost.
To learn more about Dr. Karyn Purvis, join Gillian Sheridan for her “Children are a Gift” report, Tuesday night on CBS 19 News at 10. You can also find information on children waiting to be adopted at www.cbs19.tv and www.tylerpaper.com . To inquire about an East Texas child in need of a forever family, call 903-533-4109.