25 Investigates: Lawmakers put the brakes on proposed Harmony Montgomery Commission

An advocacy commission named after missing child Harmony Montgomery failed to make it into this year’s state budget, 25 Investigates has learned.

The Budget Conference Committee stripped an amendment that would have created the Harmony Montgomery Commission out of the FY23 budget.

“In conference committee negotiations for legislation as large as the budget, it’s inevitable that negotiators won’t reach an agreement on every provision, especially policy considerations outside of the budget that may require input from stakeholders,” Ana Viva, spokesperson for House Speaker Ron Mariano, said in a statement. “The House has a strong record of passing DCF and child welfare related reforms, most recently during this legislative session. The House will continue to work on making improvements to the child welfare system.”

As 25 Investigates first reported, Senator Michael Moore (D-Shrewsbury) introduced the amendment in May in the wake of a scathing report from the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) that examined the handling of Harmony Montgomery’s case by the commonwealth.

In its report, the OCA found the state prioritized parental rights over Harmony’s welfare. The child advocate criticized the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), which provides legal representation for people who can’t afford an attorney, for failing to argue effectively on behalf of Harmony and failing to prioritize her safety and special needs.

The Harmony Montgomery Commission would have studied how child care and protection cases are handled in Massachusetts and recommended changes.

“I’m disappointed,” Sen. Moore told 25 Investigates following the budget hearing. “The state of Massachusetts has a responsibility to the children overseen by the DCF to ensure they are protected by guardians who have their best interests at heart. The Harmony Montgomery Commission was meant to bring together a diverse group of child advocates, welfare experts, legal professionals, and state legislators to propose specific and actionable policy changes that would better protect the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children. Without this commission, I fear more children will slip through the cracks the way Harmony did.”

Harmony Montgomery was placed in the custody of DCF in 2014, when she was 2 months old. She remained in the custody of DCF until February 2019, when her father Adam Montgomery was awarded custody by the Juvenile Court of Massachusetts. As 25 Investigates first reported in January, Harmony was sent to New Hampshire to live with her father, a man with a long criminal history who struggled with addiction, without an Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). An ICPC is an agreement between states to ensure that a child placed in care across state lines is safe and receiving proper services. It requires certain safeguards and regular check-ins by child welfare agencies.

When Harmony moved to New Hampshire, DCF closed her case and the agency’s involvement in her life ended.

A few months later she went missing but her disappearance went unreported until December 2021, more than two years after she was last seen in the Manchester home she shared with her father and his new family.

In January, Adam 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 did their job by investigating the circumstances that led to her disappearance and writing a 101 page report detailing their findings and recommendations on how to ensure no other children are failed the way Harmony was. My amendment creating the Harmony Montgomery Commission was written to fulfill the very first recommendation the OCA provided in their report. If the legislature deems the recommendations of the OCA not worth following, it begs the question: why bother having the OCA investigate at all?” Sen. Moore said, adding that he plans to introduce his amendment again in the coming weeks or in January.

25 Investigates reached out to the OCA for reaction. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson said:

“In our May 2022 report, the Office of the Child Advocate recommended the establishment of a Working Group 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 to ensure that a parent’s rights are appropriately balanced with a child’s needs. We continue to believe in the value of establishing such a group to work through this important and complex area of policy, and are hopeful the Legislature will act on our recommendation before the end of the legislative session on July 31st.

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