The sad death of 11-year-old Hannah Nazareth in Pittsfield is a saga that combines two devastating issues in the state and county — heroin abuse and child neglect.
Anthony Nazareth, 47, died of an apparent heroin overdose in a Pittsfield apartment last August, and his daughter died as much as a month earlier from an undetermined cause. The capper to this ugly story is the charging by police of a Pittsfield man for allegedly stealing electronics from the apartment while the Nazareths lay there dead.
"Hannah Nazareth was failed by a number of people," said Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless in a statement. The statement adds that while Anthony Nazareth "provided false and misleading information" concerning Hannah to various agencies, there was no follow-up to determine her status. In child protection cases, agencies must assume that the information they receive is unreliable and verify first-hand.
Massachusetts reported the highest number of abused and neglected children in the nation in 2014 according to The Boston Globe Tuesday. Those figures were almost identical in 2015 (31,114 compared to 31,863 in 2014) according to state statistics. National numbers for 2015 are not yet available for comparison purposes.
In a best case scenario, the high numbers partially reflect increased focus on the problem since the failings of the state Department of Children emerged two years ago in the form of high-profile deaths of neglected children supposedly being monitored by the agency. Governor Baker has proposed budgeting $12 million for 281 new hires at the beleaguered DCF.
Those numbers, however, not only don't lie, they tell a terrible story. A major contributor to child abuse and neglect, according to health officials across the nation, is parental drug abuse. The twin problems of drug abuse and child abuse, which the state is working to address, are so closely linked that neither can be addressed in isolation. The tragic, lonely death of Hannah Nazareth at age 11 evidently testifies to that fact.