- Office of the Child Advocate
Media Contact for OCA Releases Investigation Report on Case of Harmony Montgomery
BOSTON — The Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) released findings and recommendations Wednesday following a multi-system investigation into the case of Harmony Montgomery, who was declared missing by the New Hampshire authorities in December 2021, and who remains so as of the time of this report.
Harmony Montgomery was placed in the custody of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in 2014, when she was two months old. She remained in the custody of DCF until February 2019, when Harmony’s father, Adam Montgomery, was awarded custody by the Juvenile Court of Massachusetts. On January 3, 2022, Mr. Montgomery was arrested and charged in New Hampshire with second-degree assault, interference with custody, and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the disappearance of Harmony.
The OCA is statutorily authorized to initiate an inquiry into any concerns regarding a child who received state services that are brought to our attention. Under that authority, when information regarding Harmony’s disappearance indicated that she had prior Massachusetts child protective service involvement, the OCA initiated a full-scale multi-system investigation to explore the decision-making in Harmony’s case, including the placement of Harmony in the custody of Mr. Montgomery.
“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.”
Key findings from the OCA report include:
- 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 disappearance of Harmony is one of several public investigative reports released by the OCA, most recently a report on the death of 14-year-old David Almond that was released in March 2021, that have cast a spotlight on the difficult nature of the work that DCF and the Juvenile Court undertake with children and families. The OCA recognizes that, since the OCA’s 2021 report, there have been extensive improvements to both DCF and the Juvenile Court policy and practice. Both the DCF administration and the Juvenile Court have worked diligently to implement the recommendations from the investigation into the death of David Almond. This information is highlighted in the OCA’s Investigation Status Report Regarding the Multi-System Investigation into the Death of David Almond, released on March 24, 2022.
In this report, the OCA makes additional targeted and specific recommendations, which are intended to assist DCF, the Juvenile Court and the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) in improving their policies and practices to collectively promote and support child safety and family success. Key recommendations include:
- DCF should develop a comprehensive plan to ensure both parents are adequately assessed and receive the support and access to services needed so that their child(ren) can achieve permanency.
- There should be a Working Group established – including, at a minimum, the Juvenile Court, DCF, CPCS, the OCA and members of the Legislature – to hold policy discussions that map how a child’s welfare and best interest considerations are currently presented in Care and Protection cases and what changes may be needed so that a parent’s rights are appropriately balanced with a child’s needs.
- DCF should conduct a comprehensive review of their legal advocacy, with a focus on a continuous quality improvement system for the training, on-going litigation support, and supervision of their attorneys.
- CPCS should conduct a comprehensive review of the suitability of the standards of advocacy provided to children in Care and Protection cases, and the adequacy of CPCS’s supervision over the quality of this representation.
- DCF and the Juvenile Court should identify and address persistent barriers to permanency.
- DCF should review a statistically significant sampling of children who have been in the custody of DCF for more than two and a half years who have not achieved permanency to determine the barriers to permanency that can be addressed through policy, practice, or legal advocacy.
- The Juvenile Court should review and determine the length of time from permanent custody to a final adjudication of adoption, guardianship or return to parent for a child, to ensure that the case achieves a safe and expedient resolution.
- Massachusetts should work to improve cross-border communication and safety practices, including offering training on the ICPC to the Juvenile Court judges and all attorneys who practice in Care and Protection cases, continuing to engage with our neighboring New England states to determine where there are gaps in information sharing across borders that could be rectified by a multi-state Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and considering adopting the NEW Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.
“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.”