WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- The number of U.S. child abuse and neglect victims dropped for the sixth consecutive year in 2012, Department of Health and Human Services officials said.
A report by the department's Administration for Children and Families estimated there were 686,000 cases of child abuse or neglect across the country in 2012, down from approximately 723,000 reported abuse in 2007.
"The overall reduction in abuse and neglect is encouraging, but there are still significant areas for improvement," Mark Greenberg, acting assistant secretary for Children and Families, said in a statement. "The growth in reported child fatalities could be attributable to improved reporting."
Several states cited improvements to their child abuse reporting system, such as implementing or expanding alternative response programs and introducing a centralized intake system, the report said.
However, as the number of child abuse victims decreased, the number of fatalities attributable to child abuse and neglect appeared to have increased from 1,580 in 2011 to 1,640 in 2012, the report said.
Researchers are working to determine whether this is a real increase in child fatalities or result of improvements in how states investigate and report child fatalities improved, Greenberg said.
The report described the characteristics of families linked to child maltreatment:
-- 80.3 percent of the abusers were the victim's parent.
-- 6.1 percent were family members other than parents.
-- 4.2 percent were unmarried partners of the victim's parent.
-- 3.1 percent of the abusers had an "unknown" relationship with the victim.
-- 4.6 percent had an "other" relationship with the victim, including siblings, victim's boyfriend/girlfriend, stranger and babysitter.
-- 0.5 percent included the remaining categories, including foster parents, legal guardians, friends and neighbors.