BOSTON (WWLP) – The State Agency tasked with ensuring the safety of children in the state released a report Wednesday on its investigation into how Massachusetts handled the disappearance of five-year-old Harmony Montgomery.
Harmony was last seen in 2019, when her biological father, Adam Montgomery, took custody after a time in Massachusetts foster care, but she wasn’t reported missing until 2021. In early January 2022, Adam Montgomery was arrested and charged in Manchester, New Hampshire with second-degree assault, interference with custody, and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the disappearance of Harmony.
The circumstances of her custody has become an inter-state blame game between Massachusetts and New Hampshire authorities.
The key findings include the following:
- DCF’s clinical assessment and case management focused primarily on Harmony’s mother, Crystal Sorey. Harmony’s father, Adam Montgomery, was in prison when DCF’s involvement with Harmony began. Although he was non-responsive for long periods of time, during the times when he appeared to be in communication with the DCF case management team, they were not able to engage him, except to facilitate his supervised visits with Harmony. No assessment was ever completed on Mr. Montgomery, and he was not held accountable for starting and completing the tasks on his action plan. The DCF case management team had no understanding of his family or personal history with which to develop an action plan and from which they could assess his capacity to parent Harmony.
- Harmony’s individual medical and special needs were not central to the decision-making in her two reunifications with Ms. Sorey. The lack of focus on her needs, and the insufficient balancing of her well-being with Ms. Sorey and Mr. Montgomery’s rights, resulted in significant placement instability for Harmony, as she was moved back and forth between Ms. Sorey’s home and the home of her foster parents’ multiple times. The result was reported significant trauma and harm to Harmony’s well-being in the early years of her life.
- Harmony was also not prioritized in the legal case regarding her own care and protection, as neither the Judge in that case nor the attorneys put Harmony’s needs, safety, or wellbeing at the center of the discussion of custody. The OCA estimates that Harmony spent a total of approximately 40 hours over the course of 20 supervised visits with her father from her birth to age four and a half, yet there was no discussion on how Harmony could safely transition to Mr. Montgomery’s care, given the limited time he had spent with her. This lack of a focus on Harmony resulted in a miscalculation of the risks to Harmony when she was placed in Mr. Montgomery’s custody, and there was no planning to ensure that the custody arrangement would be successful.
- The DCF attorney did not present a strong legal case for opposing placing Harmony in Mr. Montgomery’s care. Due to the inability of DCF to fully assess Mr. Montgomery, DCF’s legal case could not address Mr. Montgomery’s parental capacity to care for Harmony in the context of Harmony’s unique needs. The DCF attorney also did not effectively argue for the application of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) to this case, nor was the ICPC linked to any protective concerns.
- Harmony’s best interests and welfare were not presented to the Juvenile Court Judge by her attorney. Harmony’s attorney did not present any evidence of Harmony’s needs, including her strengths and vulnerabilities. Harmony’s attorney agreed with Harmony being placed in Mr. Montgomery’s custody, and therefore did not present any evidence or question Mr. Montgomery on Harmony’s specific medical needs, her educational needs, her behavioral needs, nor Harmony’s daily routine or support system. The attorney also did not state any opposition to proceeding with custody without an ICPC, knowing that DCF was never able to conduct a proper assessment of the Montgomery family, and did not advocate for any type of transition plan to ensure a safe and successful transition from Harmony’s foster parents’ home to the home of Mr. Montgomery in New Hampshire. The OCA recognizes that Harmony’s attorney was not required to do any of this under the current CPCS standards of representation, but believes that Harmony’s interests and safety would have been better represented if they had. Accordingly, the OCA’s recommendation, as described further below, recommends CPCS review the suitability of its current standards of representation.
- The court awarded cross-border custody without the compliance with the requirements of the ICPC, relying on New Hampshire caselaw over Massachusetts caselaw. The OCA believes that the procedures outlined in the ICPC, if applied in Harmony’s case, would have helped to address safety and risk concerns for Harmony in Mr. Montgomery’s care. This would have included confirming the family’s living situation and Mrs. Montgomery’s sobriety, continued oversight of the placement by New Hampshire DCYF, and ensuring that Harmony was connected to services and resources in New Hampshire, including school.
“The central and most important finding in this investigation and report is that Harmony’s individual needs, wellbeing, and safety were not prioritized or considered on an equal footing with the assertion of her parents’ rights to care for her in any aspect of the decision making by any state entity,” said Maria Mossaides, Director, Office of the Child Advocate. “When children are not at the center of every aspect of the child protection system, then the system cannot truly protect them. This report describes the ripple effect of miscalculations of risk and an unequal weight placed on parents’ rights versus a child’s wellbeing.”
“The mission of the Office of the Child Advocate is to ensure that children receive appropriate, timely and quality services, with a particular focus on ensuring that the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable and at-risk children can thrive. One way we accomplish this is through tireless advocacy for policy, practice, and legislative change that we believe will improve the state systems on behalf of all the Commonwealth’s children,” said Director Mossaides. “This report asks that every Commonwealth agency take steps to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of every child that comes to the attention of the child protective service system is the primary focus of our efforts. Every citizen of the Commonwealth bears the responsibility to ensure that our children have the opportunity to grow into healthy adults.”