Lead author David Finkelhor of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham says the findings are noteworthy because economic downturns are generally associated with increased family stress and child maltreatment.
"This is good news, but we need to be very cautious," Finkelhor said in a statement. "It could be that discouragement and despair in families about their deteriorating economic situation take longer than a year to show their effects."
The study finds child sexual abuse declined 6 percent, physical abuse 3 percent and neglect 2 percent from 2007 to 2008 and child maltreatment fatalities remained stable. The recent declines represent a continuation of a large downward trend for physical and sexual abuse that began 15 years ago.
"The long-improvement for sexual and physical abuse may be related to a generation-long effort to educate and respond more effectively and aggressively to the problem," Finkelhor said. "If successful prevention efforts are behind the declines, then the improvements may persist even in the face of social stressors like the recession."