NASHVILLE - Officials with the Department of Health and Human Services say child abuse and neglect was down in 2011 for the fifth straight year.
Carla Snodgrass with Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee said that's good news, but there are still many challenges.
One of the big concerns, she said, is that abuse is most common among children who are very young.
"Four years old and younger are the highest incidences of abuse and neglect," Snodgrass said. "We can't just sit back and say 'great job, it's going down.' We have to diligently keep up the same programs that we have and work even harder with families with very young children."
Snodgrass said one of the prevention strategies that's working in Tennessee is evidence-based home visitation. The program is in place in the 30 counties with the most families at risk and relies on early intervention.
"We have families who are very young and inexperienced and could have all kinds of stressers in their family that could make them become abusive," she said. "We've been able to do these interventions early, either prenatally or upon the birth of a child, and that proven strategy says you can reduce the incidences of abuse and neglect."
In the 2012 fiscal year, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services conducted more than 60,000 investigations into reported child abuse and neglect in the state. Nationally, the latest annual figure shows there were an estimated 3.4 million referrals received by child protective service agencies.
The federal government report, Child Maltreatment 2011, is available at www.acf.hhs.gov.
More information about the issue of child abuse is available from Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee at www.pcat.org.