(NewsNation) —An independent state watchdog in Massachusetts concluded the child welfare system failed 7-year-old Harmony Montgomery, who went missing in 2019 after being put in the custody of her allegedly abusive father.
Harmony went missing in New Hampshire after her biological father Adam Montgomery, who had a history of substance abuse and violent criminal history, was awarded custody of the girl along with his wife Kayla.
Harmony had been surrendered to the child welfare system in Massachusetts by her biological mother and step-mother while her father was in prison. After jumping from foster home to foster home, Harmony was again placed in her father’s care.
Now, an independent state watchdog is saying the court, attorneys and welfare system failed to consider Harmony’s safety as a priority, instead favoring parental rights, leading up to her disappearance, said Maria Mossaides, director of the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate.
“Our essential and most important finding in this investigation is that unfortunately, and with serious consequences, Harmony Montgomery’s individual well-being and safety were not prioritized or considered on equal footing with her parents’ right to care for her in any aspect of the decision made by any state entity,” Mossaides said.
Harmony was in the custody of Child Protective Services by the time she was 2 months old. In 2019, her father was awarded custody in New Hampshire. Soon after, Harmony was missing. But it took almost two years for anyone to report the missing little girl.
“I thought she was with her dad and he was just being a jerk,” said Harmony’s mother, Crystal Sorey. “That’s what I hoped was happening. But in my heart, I knew something was wrong.”
Adam Montgomery, who in the past has been convicted of shooting someone in the head and attacking two women in a separate attack, pleaded not guilty to charges relating to Harmony. He remains in jail.
Why Harmony was put back in her father’s custody remains a looming question over the case. When Adam Montgomery was awarded custody, the court did not require a prior review of his home.
“Most state agencies that serve children are underfunded,” said Dr. Yvonne Vissing, director of the Center for Childhood and Youth Studies. “They have caseloads that are very big, they have too few workers, there’s a big turnover because it’s a high-stress occupation. I think a lot more money needs to go into providing the kinds of services that would have protected Harmony.”
Anonymous phone calls were made to New Hampshire’s Division of Youth and Family Services that indicated Harmony was being abused. Photos from her father’s home showed the family living without electricity.
At one point, Harmony was found with a black eye, which her father later admitted he gave her.