25 Investigates: ‘System failure’ allowed NH girl’s disappearance to go unreported for two years

MANCHSESTER, NH — When custody of little Harmony Montgomery was given to her father, Adam Montgomery, an out of state resident with a long criminal history, an Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) was not in place, 25 Investigates has learned.

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.

Investigative reporter and anchor Kerry Kavanaugh has learned that once 7-year old Harmony left Massachusetts with no ICPC in place, that effectively ended DCF’s involvement in her life and the department closed her case.

But a retired Massachusetts juvenile court judge 25 Investigates consulted, but who was not involved with Harmony’s case, expressed serious concerns about the lack of ICPC.

“I think there was a system failure here. I don’t know where that failure was and I think the victim in all of this is a precious, beautiful 7-year old,” said Terry Craven, who served as first justice in Suffolk County Juvenile Court for nearly two decades.

In February 2019 the state awarded custody of Harmony to her father in New Hampshire, whose criminal history dates back to 2007. She was last seen in October 2019, when police say they saw her at a home in Manchester.

Judge Craven points out that a criminal record in and of itself does not preclude someone from getting custody of a child, and that a number of other factors are also examined.

“It’s not prohibited unless that criminal record included the death of another child. As soon as [Dad] steps forward, their regulations allow them to get the ICPC started with New Hampshire,” she said about DCF guidelines about out of state placements.

The Office of the Child Advocate in Massachusetts confirmed to 25 Investigates the agency is investigating Harmony’s case and that an ICPC was not in place.

In a statement, OCA director Maria Mossaides said: “We are aware of the evolving situation regarding Harmony Montgomery’s disappearance and share the public’s grave concern for her safety and well-being. The OCA is carefully reviewing this case given the family’s prior involvement in the Massachusetts child protective and juvenile court systems. We have learned that the Massachusetts juvenile court awarded custody of Harmony to her father, Mr. Montgomery in February of 2019. It is important to note that when an ICPC is not in place, there is no legal mechanism for DCF to monitor a transfer of custody to a parent in another state. We are hopeful that Harmony will be found soon.”

What’s unclear is whether Massachusetts DCF requested an ICPC and whether New Hampshire declined to do one. Under Massachusetts regulations, when a child is going to the custody of a biological parent an ICPC is not required. ICPC’s are usually invoked when children are placed for adoption or foster care across state lines.

But Judge Craven says sending a child in DCF care to another state without an ICPC is highly unusual.

“I don’t recall ever doing it,” she tells 25 Investigates.

An ICPC ensures things like a child received medical care and is enrolled in school. The New Hampshire Department of Education confirmed to 25 Investigates that Harmony was never enrolled in a New Hampshire school. If an interstate agreement had been in place, it’s possible a teacher or other mandated reporter would have noticed that the young girl was missing and could have notified the NH Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).

“This is a child who was a ghost,” said Craven.

It is possible Harmony was on the Granite State’s radar by the summer of 2019. According to the Manchester police affidavit for Adam Montgomery’s arrest, a great uncle reported seeing Harmony with a black eye in July of that year.

Kevin Montgomery, Adam’s uncle, told Boston 25 News by phone that the family notified NH DCYF that Harmony was harmed.

“My family loves Harmony. We tried. I tried. [DCYF], they failed,” said Kevin Montgomery.

Harmony’s maternal grandfather told Boston 25 News’ Jason Law he too expressed his concerns to the agency.

“The system has failed her. I have called numerous times,” Timothy Flanagan.

Judge Craven also raised concerns about the numerous reports to NH DCYF family members say they made. Specifically, she’d like to know whether and when they were investigated.

“What scares me is how many other harmonies are out there that are being kept out of the public eye because they are victims of abuse,” said Craven.

25 Investigates has also learned DCF is cooperating with law enforcement and New Hampshire officials in the ongoing investigation however, due to federal and state privacy requirements, DCF said it cannot share further details about a specific case.

The agency added, custody awards are the end result of a court process, and are determined by the court. And, they say, as a general matter, per Massachusetts DCF regulations, placement with a caregiver is contingent on a home study done by the child welfare agency in a receiving state through the ICPC process. The caregiver for the child also must pass a background records check performed in accordance with the DCF Background Records Check Policy.

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