BOSTON (WHDH) - The Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate on Wednesday released a report that cited many flaws in the handling of the case of Harmony Montgomery, a New Hampshire girl who disappeared in 2019 at the age of 5.

Montgomery was placed in the custody of the Department of Children and Families in 2014 when she was 2-monhts-old and she remained in the custody of DCF until February 2019 when her father, Adam Montgomery, was awarded custody by the Juvenile Court of Massachusetts, according to the report.

Harmony vanished sometime in late November or early December of that year but authorities did not know she was missing until December 2021.

The OCA report indicated that Harmony’s “needs, wellbeing, and safety” were not prioritized before she was released into the custody of her father.

“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 of the 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.”

Adam and Kayla Montgomery, Harmony’s stepmother, have been formally indicted on the charges they were arrested on earlier this year related to the child’s well-being.

The search for Harmony remains active. Police in Manchester, New Hampshire, have received hundreds of tips, and photos of the child have appeared on billboards and social media sites.

Adam Montgomery, 30, was indicted by a Hillsborough County grand jury in March on a charge of second-degree assault, a felony, alleging that he struck Harmony in the face in July 2019. He also has been arrested on misdemeanor charges of interference with custody and endangering the welfare of a child.

Kayla Montgomery, 31, was indicted by the grand jury on a felony charge of theft by deception, alleging that she told state Health Department workers that Harmony was a member of her household from November 2019 to June 2, 2021, and that she received food stamp benefits for Harmony.

Both have pleaded not guilty, telling police that the child was living with her mother in Massachusetts. They have not been charged in connection with her disappearance. Harmony’s mother said she last saw her daughter during a phone video conversation around Easter 2019.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu blasted Massachusetts officials in January, saying the Bay State’s SJC was at fault for placing Harmony with her father and stepmother before a home study could be completed. Adam Montgomery had a history of addiction, as well as a criminal convictions that include an armed attack on two women and shooting a man in the head during a drug deal.

Other 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 Manchester Police Department’s 24-hour tip line on the case is (603) 203-6060 and there is a reward fund of at least $150,000.

This is a breaking news story; stay with 7NEWS for updates online and on-air.

(Copyright (c) 2024 Sunbeam Television. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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