Social consequences of experiencing trauma

In my last blog I looked at the physical aspects of trauma and the possible impacts it can have on our bodies – but what do you think happens around us?

The Community Resilience Cookbook states that people with an ACE’s score of 4 or more, are ten times more likely to experience social problems such as drug and alcohol dependency or abuse. They have a higher rate of prescription use as well as intravenous drug use. This type of behaviour can be linked back to health problems associated with the liver.

They report having more relationship issues and broken marriages than people who haven’t experienced childhood trauma. Research from the ACE’s study has indicated that a commonality from those who experienced childhood trauma had come from single parent families. Can you see from this how the cycle of abuse can be perpetuated?

Eighty seven per cent of people have reported being exposed to more than one form of abuse in their life. Due to the anxiety and depression which often goes un-diagnosed or treated, they have far more work absences and are seen to have a poorer work ethic than others. This results in an inability to hold and maintain employment and as a result leads to higher unemployment rates and a lower socio-economic environment, which has also been identified as a possible indicator or contributing factor of trauma and abuse in childhood.


With the higher percentage of drug and alcohol abuse and lower levels of unemployment leads to a higher dependency on welfare payments. The higher levels of unemployment rates means that people are unable to afford to purchase their own homes, therefore putting more strain on affordable housing and increases the number of people applying for public housing. This creates longer wait lists and time frames before people can receive a home under the social housing scheme. We have seen in many suburbs, where there is high employment in a social housing estate, that drug and alcohol abuse is high and so is the crime rate. When you put people together who have too much time and too little money and who are dealing with life by self medicating, that this leads to societal problems such as a rise in criminal activities as they attempt to survive.

Take your time to think about this scenario? Do you think that this contributes to the next generation of children who experience trauma in their lives? Can you understand now how the cycle of abuse can create inter-generational unemployment, inter-generational drug and alcohol abuse, a lack of positive role models and how when this is how you live and your family has always lived that there is no hope for the future? There is no dream for a better life as this is all you know and all you know how to do. Do you think it’s easy for them to just get out and get a job? I have just skimmed the surface with possible social impacts, can you think of more?

I wish the Politicians would become trauma informed and start putting money in to therapeutic services to address this serious problem in society and see that it isn’t just a matter of being lazy or choosing not to work – for some the roots are far greater than that.

If you are as passionate as me about this societal issue and the social justice inequalities it causes, help spread the word and make trauma informed approaches the way of the future.

Thanks for reading

The effects trauma has on health


The Community Resilience Cook book details that having elevated levels or cortisol and adreneline in the body for a prolonged period of time can cause elevated glucose levels. High levels of glucose can lead to type 2 diabetes. It also leads to a person’s blood pressure and cholesterol to be elevated. High blood pressure weakens the circulatory system and heart and high cholesterol can lead to heart attack and stroke.

It also mentions that having too much cortisol in our bodies can lead to osteoporosis, depression, anorexia, arthritis, hyperthyroidism, gastrointestinal disease and a shrinkage in our lymph nodes which creates complications for our body to fight off infections. If the body experiences high levels of cortisol over many years in can lead to a break down in the immune system, which can result in the immune system attacking parts of the body which can result is diseases such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Even those these conditions aren’t usually attributed to children, the more traumatic their experiences the more it predisposes them to these health inequalities as an adult.

Here is a direct quote from the website that I found fascinating and just had to share with you

“Biomedical researchers say that childhood trauma is biologically embedded in our bodies: children with adverse childhood experiences and adults who have experienced childhood trauma may have a smaller prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain), a more active HPA system and higher levels of indicators for inflammation than those who have not suffered childhood trauma. This is the main reason why the lifespan of people with an ACE score of six or higher is likely to be shortened by 20 years.”


When you are chronically stressed (in a constant state of arousal) experiencing an additional stressful event can produce (trigger) a somewhat exaggerated response compared to others. Many survivors of childhood trauma have a hypersensitivity to things such as smells, sounds, noises, tastes and touches. An un-predicted and accidental bump can send a traumatised child instantly in to a “fight, flight, freeze” state, which the child may retaliate with a bite or a punch, with running away or throwing chairs and even with a total withdraw and disassociation. It’s these triggers that Doctors label these actions as reactions to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), PTSD could be classified as a social inequality, as the sufferer never knows when they are going to come across a trigger and if severe enough and if left untreated could lead to anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia.

This leads me on to my next blog topic which is the effects trauma has on a social level.

How trauma affects the developing brain?


Trauma significantly reduces a child’s working memory. If you remember my biology lesson a few posts ago – you will remember how my emphasis then was on the different parts of the limbic system and what they were responsible for.

The amygdala is the part of the limbic system that is responsible for releasing cortisole – the stress hormone which gives us out survival instinct to fight, flight or freeze. When the amygdala is engaged in producing cortisole it becomes enlarged and encroaches on the space in the brain designated to the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the limbic system responsible for memories and is the memory sorting centre that stores our long term memories. A child who has or is experiencing trauma will always be on high alert due to the chaotic world they live in and will be in one of two states:

hyperarousal – which means that they appear restless and unable to concentrate;


hypoarousal – which means that the child appears quiet and withdrawn.

In either of these states the child’s ability to learn becomes quite difficult as the enlarged amygdala is forcing the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex offline, due to the constant perceived threat to survival.


What do you think a child who is hyper or hypo-aroused might look like at school?? Do you think that they are the quiet achievers who sit there and finish all of their work before the others?? Do you think they are the class clown who disrupts everyone day in and day out who simply can’t concentrate or comprehend what it is they are supposed to be doing? If you said yes to the latter, then you would be right. This is how trauma cause inequalities in the classroom.

Quite often these children get diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) and prescribed medication that quite often only makes their behaviour worse.

What about the child with severe anxiety, who can never go to a birthday party or have a sleep over or the one who mopes around and appears to have no zest for life at an age where they should be bouncing of the walls with excitement and opportunities but they simply can’t find any enjoyment with anything they do. Or the child who is lashing out with extreme acts of violence or being the school bully? Do you think that they are just mean or mentally unstable?? This is how trauma causes inequalities in mental health.

Here is a short youtube clip about behaviour in children

Teachers are starting to be educated and taking on a trauma informed approach and offering support for these children like  a time out corner so when they are feeling overwhelmed that can take themselves away to a quiet corner of the room and read a book to self soothe.

This really is just the tip of the ice-burg in to how trauma affects the developing brain and I have only looked at the issues it has for a child in relation to school and learning and possible mental health consequences.

My next blog I will look at others ways that trauma impacts on the body and what inequalities that causes.

Thanks for reading

Is your ACE score more than 4? What does that mean?

In my previous post I explained that the ACE questionnaire focused on the effects of complex traumas rather than a “one off” traumatic experience. Research has shown that the more times a child is exposed to a traumatic experience the more severe the impact it has on their life.

The following charts are the possible impacts and negative health implications identified by the ACE’s research.


The chart above looks at the most common forms of adverse experiences children can face. The most common form of household dysfunction is substance abuse followed quite closely by parental divorce or separation.

Now remember that the ACE score and inequalities it causes relates to a combination of adverse reactions not just one thing.


People with an ACE score of 4 or more are 16% more likely to have issues with alcohol as an adult.


Adult alcoholism is strongly related to the prevalence of liver disease. A high percentage of adults who experience alcoholism issues start using alcohol as a way to self medicate and relieve their stress while in their teens. It becomes a mal-adaptive coping mechanism, which in turn creates issues with the health of their liver.


Having an ACE score of 4 or more means that people are 17% more likely to smoke as an adult. Smokers report that nicotine reduces their anger and improves their focus. The adverse health effects from smoking are chronic lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and of course lung cancer not to mention all the other adverse health conditions related to smoking such as stroke and heart disease.


Children who witness domestic violence are 10% for females and 14% for males more likely to become the perpetrator of domestic violence as adults. Females also tend to find themselves being an adult victim of domestic violence and quite often find themselves with multiple violent partners in their life.


As you can see from this chart that the instance of teen pregnancy is 40% more likely in people with an ACE score of 4 or more. Those statistics are quite high and of that 40%, roughly 35% of those go on to be Teen parents.


I find these statistics quite alarming with over 55% of women and 35% of men with an ACE’s score of 4 or more experiencing chronic depression.


You can see here that there has been quite a significant increase in the prescription of anti-depressants. Although the rate is quite high, this can be seen as a good thing as people are actually seeking help for their depression and anxiety, wouldn’t you agree?


I also find these statistics quite sad and although it appears that people are asking for help with their depression, these statistics show the high proportion of people who attempt suicide.


There was no direct information on this graph, there could be a number of outside factors contributing to these statistics about poor work performance. What do you think they could be?

As a person with an ACE’s score of more than 4, I have personally experienced many of these and know many people who fit within these statistics. What about you, do you agree with the research?

I feel I got a bit off topic in this post and jumped to adult issues of childhood trauma, but will get back on topic in my next blog, but ask you to think about graph 5, which looks at domestic violence, do you think that this perpetuates the cycle of abuse?

Thanks for reading 🙂 until next time

What is Trauma?


The google dictionary describes trauma as:

  1. A medical term meaning physical injury.
  2. A deeply disturbing or distressing event.

What is complex trauma??

The SMART online training defines complex trauma as any single, ongoing or cumulative experience which:

  1. Evokes a physiological or psychological set of responses
  2. Is a response to a perceived threat
  3. Overwhelms our capacity to cope
  4. Feels and /or is outside of our control

The Adults Surviving Child Abuse organisation writes that one of the ways complex trauma can occur, is from experiences of childhood abuse including neglect and witnessing Family violence and dysfunction.

How does trauma affect us?

I know I keep referring back to the SMART online training but the Australian Childhood Foundation by all means are not the only trauma informed organisation. There appears to be a growing momentum and instances of research backing these claims from all over the world.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and Kaiser Permanente in San Diego have created the ACE study (Adverse Childhood Experiences) which is ongoing collaborative research in to the culmination (collection) of childhood trauma and the links to social consequences and/or inequalities and long term health conditions.

They have created a survey, which I have added to the menu, which asks you to give yourself a point for every adverse childhood experience you have had. The research findings have so far indicated the higher your ACE score the more likely you were to suffer from a range of social inequalities and long term health conditions such as obesity and chronic lung conditions.


Here is a youtube clip referring to the ACE’s research I thought was really interesting

The ACE study identified a few areas of social disadvantage as well as chronic health conditions experienced by those who have an ACE score of 4 or more. I will look at these in detail in my next blog, but some of these areas are adult alcoholism, chronic depression, being victim or perpetrator of domestic violence, substance use and abuse, lack of employment or trans-generational unemployment, liver disease, smoking addiction to name just a few. All of these issues relate to inequalities in relation to health.

A team of neuro-scientists and pediatricians began research in to toxic stress and how it affects the developing brain of a child, around the same time as the ACE research. The research team noticed that not all children who had experienced the same traumatic childhood events, had the same negative or severe reactions to it and developed a questionnaire aimed at resilience and protective factors that could help to explain why some children were so adversely affected while others weren’t. In my opinion it also relates to the age old argument around nature verses nurture and i think with this, nurture definitely plays a big part in relation to protective factors.

Here is the link – please scroll down the page, the resilience questionnaire appears after the pictures of the graphs.

My protective factors are 10. What are yours?

How the brain develops and what part trauma affects

For this blog I am going to refer to what I have learnt from doing the SMART training developed by the Australian Childhood Foundation.

Science was never really my thing and this will start off with a bit of biology but I found it invaluable to my understanding of how child abuse can affect children and the multitude of problems it creates.

Some people may be aware that when the brain develops its starts from bottom to top. The brain stem develops first and it is responsible for the basic human survival stuff like breathing and eating, it starts developing in utero and is fully formed by birth.

Next stage of development is the limbic system – this i will cover is some detail – to the best of my ability in layman’s terms as it is the big stand out for me in my training on how trauma affects the developing brain.

I’m sure everyone has heard of the flight or fight response right?? It’s our bodies natural hormone called cortisol that is released in times of danger that makes us run like crazy or pumps us with adrenaline to stand our ground and fight, or floods our system causes us to freeze.  Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands that sit just above our kidneys. The part of the brain responsible for triggering the release of cortisol is called the amygdala. The amygdala has a left and a right side and when it is enlarged it basically forces the brain to go offline and it is concerned with survival nothing else. Which is why the freeze part has been added because some people can’t function either to fight or to flight.

When the amygdala enlarges in interferes with another part of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is responsible for memory retention and regulating emotions.

Both the amygdala and hippocampus are part of the limbic system of the brain which is responsible for unconcious  feelings, associations and memories (good or bad) and basic drives as well as learning and behaviour.

The other parts of the limbic system I need to touch on in relation to this blog is the thalamus and the hypothalamus. The thalamus is the part of the brain responsible for regulation of motor functions, sensory perception and sleep.

The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that controls the essential hormones of the body that control things like body temperature, mood, sex drive, hunger, body weight and blood pressure.

So now I have gone through the particular parts of the brain and their functions, I am going to leave you to think about how family violence may interfere with these specific areas – especially those on a developing brain. I will come back to this in future blogs.

Here is a link to a short youtube clip which shows evidence that trauma does change the brain in a negative way

My next blog, I will look at what is trauma.

What is Family Violence?


Family Law Act 1975

The Family Law Act 1975 defines Family violence as violent, threatening or other behaviour that controls or coerces (forces) a member of a person’s Family, or causes the Family member to be fearful.

Examples of behaviour that constitute Family violence include:

  1. Preventing Family members from making or keeping connections to culture, Friends or Family eg: not allowed to have Friends
  2. Unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet reasonable living expenses eg: limiting grocery expenditure to $70 a week for a Family of 4
  3. Unreasonably denying the Family member financial autonomy eg: not allowed to have a job
  4. Intentionally causing injury or death to an animal eg: beating pet dog
  5. Intentionally damaging or destroying property eg: smashing person’s mobile phone
  6. Repeated derogatory taunts eg: emotional abuse and name calling
  7. Stalking eg: following the person everywhere they go
  8. Sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour eg: forced to perform oral sex
  9. Assault eg: causing physical injury.

Family violence isn’t just between Partners, it can include violence between any members of the Family, for example an older sibling threatening assault or actual assault of their Parent or younger sibling.

NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) defines Domestic and Family Violence as:

“Domestic violence causes fear, physical and/or psychological harm. It is most often violent, abusive or intimidating behaviour by a man against a woman. Living with domestic violence has a profound effect upon children and young people and may constitute a form of child abuse. (The NSW Domestic and Family Violence Action Plan, June 2010)”

Under the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 and the NSW Crimes Act 1900 acts of Family and/or Domestic Violence are offences.,-carers-and-families/domestic-and-family-violence

I would like to add that Domestic and Family violence does occur where the Man is the victim and it also occurs in same sex relationships. Women can be the perpetrators of violence however statistics show that more often than not it’s women who are the victims.

I know this blog has been a little boring based on definitions but I feel it is important that everyone is on the same page and recognises the many different things that are classified as family violence.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy reading my future blogs.



My name is Melissa and I am a social work student at UOW. I have previously studied at TAFE and have obtained a cert 4 and diploma in both Community services and Youth work. I have a passion for helping others and am using my university experience to better understand the impacts of childhood trauma.

For the purpose of this blog, I am choosing to research and write about family violence and the impact it has on children which inevitably causes inequalities. The social justice issue that this relates to are the rights of the child. Under article 19.1 of the Convention of the rights of the child, it states, that Governments must take all necessary measures in to consideration when it comes to protecting children from all forms of mental and physical violence and abuse and neglect.

For a child to witness family violence, it is quite a traumatic experience even if the violence is not directed at them. I have a passion for child protection and learning about how trauma affects the developing brain and the many different ways that it can present itself especially in children.

I was first introduced to the impacts of trauma on the developing brain as a student on placement at Family Services Illawarra (FSI). I was required to undertake the SMART (Strategies for Managing Abuse Related Trauma) online training and found it incredibly interesting and have a desire to learn as much as possible in this area and to share my research. For anyone interested in undertaking the SMART training I will post the link to this blog.

Over the next few weeks I will write about the definition of family violence and what it looks like, what is trauma, what is the ACE’s research, some of the possible effects of family violence such as attachment issues, developmental delays, learning disabilities and mental health issues, to name a few.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to read my blog and I welcome any comments about what you have read and what you think and/or feel about the issues that I have raised.