BROOKLYN - According to social-service experts, there were 20,000 allegations of child abuse in Brooklyn last year. Experts say that number could grow substantially if the economy continues to deteriorate.

News 12 Brooklyn is taking an in-depth look at the crisis with a series called "Child Abuse: Breaking the Cycle."

Officials say almost a third of all abuse cases handled by the city's child-welfare agency in 2008 happened in Brooklyn. Citywide about 66,000 cases were investigated last year, a spike from 2005, when the murder of 6-year-old Nixzmary Brown shocked the city's residents.

And experts say that when unemployment increases dramatically the way it has amid the economic crisis, cases of child abuse can rise. Groups that serve victims of abuse, such as Safe Horizons in Downtown Brooklyn, say they are bracing for the worst.

"My gut is that we're going to see these numbers rise over time," says Nancy Arnow, an executive at Safe Horizons.

To watch Part I of "Child Abuse: Breaking the Cycle," go to channel 612 on your iO digital cable box and select iO Extra.