Proposed ‘Harmony Montgomery Commission’ to examine Mass. child welfare system takes step forward

A proposed commission to study and potentially recommend changes to how child care and protection cases are handled in Massachusetts is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The state Senate on Wednesday voted 38-0 to include the amendment in its budget. According to the updated text of the amendment, the commission “shall study how a child’s rights, welfare and best interest considerations are currently handled in care and protection cases and petition to dispense with consent cases and make recommendations for how to better protect and serve children in such cases.”

The commission would examine how to balance the rights of parents without jeopardizing the wellbeing and safety of children. It also would study how these cases disproportionately impact children of color, immigrant children, children with disabilities, LGBTQ children and children from low-income backgrounds.

The commission is named after Harmony Montgomery, who spent much of her young life in and out of foster care before a Massachusetts judge sent her to live in New Hampshire with her father, a man with a long criminal history who struggled with addiction, in February 2019.

Harmony went missing later that year, but her disappearance went unnoticed and unreported for two years.

Earlier this month, the state’s Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) released the findings of its five-month investigation into Harmony’s case. In it, the OCA 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.

“While I believe the vast majority of people within the DCF have good intentions and want the best for these children, this report is an indictment of the system that is meant to protect Harmony and children like her, showing systematic oversights, missteps and poor judgement throughout the time Harmony was under its care,” Moore told the state Senate on Wednesday.

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 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.

When Harmony left Massachusetts with no ICPC in place, that effectively ended DCF’s involvement in her life, and the department closed her case.

In January, Adam 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.

“Harmony Montgomery’s story is one that could have been prevented,” Moore said. “While we continue to hope that Harmony will soon be found safe and sound, for now we must do everything in our power to ensure that our system will not fail any more children.

The amendment calls for the commission to be made up of 21 members, including representative from the OCA, DCF, CPCS, Juvenile Court, Attorney General’s Office and the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.

The commission would convene within 60 days of the bill’s approval by the legislature and would be expected to submit a report of its study and any recommendations, together with any draft legislation necessary to carry those recommendations, by September 30, 2023.

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