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.