NEW YORK - Fears that persisting economic woes would increase child abuse have proved unfounded, according to the latest federal data.

A comprehensive new report, to be formally unveiled Wednesday, shows overall abuse and neglect figures declining slightly between 2008 and 2010 and child fatalities dropping by 8.5 percent during that span.

"The recession hasn't had the draconian effect that some feared," said Richard Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice and an expert on child welfare.

The annual report from the Department of Health and Human Services said the estimated number of victimized children dropped from 716,000 in the 2008 fiscal year, when the recession began, to 695,000 in 2010. That's down from 825,000 in 2006.

The rate of abuse last year -- factoring in cases where some children were abused more than once during the year -- was 10 per 1,000 children, down from 10.3 in 2008, reaching the lowest level since the current tracking system began in 1990. The number of fatalities from abuse and neglect has dropped markedly, from an estimated 1,720 in 2008 and 1,750 in 2009 to 1,560 last year. About 80 percent of those killed were 3 or younger.

The report tallied 63,527 children who were sexually abused in 2010 -- a drop from 65,964 in 2009 and down more than 55 percent from the peak of about 150,000 in 1992.

The report, formally known as the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, is based on input from child protection agencies in every state.

Sociologist David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, said among likely factors in the decline are greater public awareness about child abuse and more knowledge among parents of good child-rearing practices.

ASSOCIATED PRESS