25 Investigates: NH Child Advocate launches preliminary review of Harmony Montgomery’s case

Next steps and scope of review depend on the police investigation

For nearly two weeks, 25 Investigates has examined how and why little Harmony Montgomery was transferred from Massachusetts foster care into the custody of her father Adam Montgomery, a man with a criminal record dating back to 2007 who struggled with addiction.

Our team has been examining records and contacting child protection agencies in two states trying to determine what happened once she left Massachusetts to live with her father in New Hampshire in February 2019.

Chief among the questions: Why weren’t safeguards in place to ensure Harmony was going to a safe home? Those safeguards would have come in the form of an Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC), an agreement between states to ensure that a child placed in care across state lines is safe and receiving proper services. It requires certain protections and regular check-ins.

25 Investigates learned that once 7-year old Harmony left Massachusetts with no ICPC in place, that effectively ended MA DCF’s involvement in her life and the department closed her case.

Investigative reporter Kerry Kavanaugh has been questioning agencies who had contact with Harmony or ones that would now be examining the handling of that contact.

For the past two weeks, she’s asked the NH Division of Children, Youth and Families about this case about Harmony’s case. On a number of occasions, the agency said due to privacy laws they were not permitted to discuss specifics. In a statement to 25 Investigates this week the agency said: The Department is continually reviewing its processes to ensure the best possible outcomes for children and families. The Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) has conducted a preliminary internal review on this case, and as is the case whenever a critical incident involving a child occurs, a comprehensive quality assurance review is completed. While we are bound by law to protect the confidentiality of families involved with DCYF and are unable to comment on specific cases, our primary focus is locating Harmony, and the Department is supporting local law enforcement as they continue with their investigation.

On Wednesday, she spoke with the New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate (OCA), which is now reviewing what unfolded in the Granite State with respect to the case, to get more clarity on why Harmony seemingly fell of the radar. During an ongoing investigation like the one into Harmony’s disappearance, the NH OCA says it monitors the case to see what develops and examines the system to see is best practices were met.

Here’s a portion of her interview with Moira O’Neill, the head of the NH OCA:

25 Investigates: I’m wondering if the Office of the Advocate has a clearer explanation of the process that should happen when New Hampshire receives a child from another state?

NH OCA: If there’s an open child protective case, which means that there’s a legal relationship between a state, a child and a family, so generally when they’re sent to another state there may be an interstate compact agreement where the receiving state would have some responsibility to check on the child. If however the child is placed with a non-offending parent, a biological parent who’s not involved in any abuse and neglect, they may not need that because the child is considered safe. We don’t know the circumstances were with this child coming to New Hampshire until we get more information and some sort of a conclusion, we can sort of examine, should there have been some sort of supervision or support of that family when she arrived in New Hampshire.

25 Investigates: We know police were at the home where Harmony was last seen 14 times between June and November 2019. According to those reports DCYF was at that home in August and October of 2019 and, of course, Harmony has presumably gone missing by November of that year. So as the Child Advocate are you asking about the follow-up DCYF follow-up after those visits?

NH OCA: So again I cannot comment on this case. I can tell you generally if there’s something that’s happened to a child that’s been reported to us, we would look at the history of DCYF involvement with the family, what they were there for, what they did and whether or not they met the standard and the legal obligation of the agency there.

25 Investigates: Did the Office of the Child Advocate become aware of Harmony Montgomery when the rest of us did; when police announced on New Year’s Eve she was missing?

NH OCA: I’m not sure I can comment on that either. I can only tell you when there’s a critical incident, the office has to be notified within 36 hours.

25 Investigates:  If things don’t change for some period of time, weeks, months, and Harmony is still considered missing would there be a point at which you could consider this more full-fledged investigative review? Would there be a threshold you’d want to get to?

NH OCA:  I think the threshold is whether in our preliminary review and our monitoring is whether we see something in the system that needs to be adjusted.

We’re always looking at the system itself. What were the influences on case decisions? You know who knew what when and how did they respond, what resources did the agency have at the time, and did they do the right thing. More times than not, the assessment is completed and they’ve done their job. It just doesn’t look that way to everyone else.

25 Investigates:  Could there be more kids off the radar like Harmony, more ‘ghost children’ as some advocates have pointed to us?

NH OCA:  I can tell you in my experience there are children flowing across borders. So children are often moving. There are a lot of children who are not in school. During the pandemic, children were not in school. New Hampshire is a strong parents’ rights state, so if parents want to keep things private about their children, they have the right to do that. It’s not always that easy to intervene. And when that child is under 5 years old, she’s not in the most formal safety net which is the school system. The only way we can really keep eyes on children is for neighbors to keep eyes on children in their communities.

You don’t have to invest a whole lot of time and resources to just know your neighbor’s names and say hello to them because when children feel connected to their communities they will ask for help.