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Abused need long-term help

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Young people exposed to abuse and hardship and struggling to find their place in the world need ''persistent and consistent'' support, a Canberra researcher says.

Debbie Noble-Carr, a research associate with the institute of child protection studies at the Australian Catholic University in Canberra, interviewed 25 young people late last year in Canberra who had been exposed to homelessness and mental, physical or sexual abuse to try to understand their search for meaning and identity.

She found the people, of ages between 15 and 25, were shaped by their past painful experiences. They also felt very alone trying to form an identity based on the values and morals that had been lacking from their childhood.

''The things that were very important to them were respect of others, the importance of family, the importance of loyalty, of being caring and helpful. These were all the things that had been lacking in their life,'' Ms Nobel-Carr said. ''And trying to live up to this ideal self was really difficult because they didn't have the foundation of family or some other support in their life.''

Most of the young people she spoke to had floundered and self-harmed, attempted suicide or abused drugs and alcohol.

She found the factors that did help were care and connection with others; being able to participate in meaningful activities such as study or work; acknowledgement for being good at something; having a sense of belonging and some hope for the future.

''If they had one of any or all of those things happening in their lives, it really increased their sense of self and how they felt about the world and their place in it,'' she said.

Ms Nobel-Carr said helping young people who had been abused was a long-term concern.

''We need to be consistent and persistent with our support for young people because while they often get engaged with work or study it won't work the first time because of the emotional pain they're carrying around.''

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