New report says N.H. child protection workers failed to locate Harmony Montgomery after a 2020 home visit
A new report released by Gov. Chris Sununu’s office on Friday suggests that New Hampshire’s child protection agency missed several potentially key opportunities to ensure the safety of a 7-year-old before she was declared missing in December 2021.
According to the report, the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families designated the family of Harmony Montgomery as high-risk after visits in 2019, but failed to track down her location after learning that she was no longer living in the same household in early 2020. It also took authorities several months to disclose that Harmony was missing after receiving a report in September 2021 that contradicted previous statements her father made about her whereabouts.
Harmony remains missing. The Manchester Police Department, which is involved in the effort to locate her, is asking anyone with information about her case to call 603-203-6060.
The report says a child protection worker visited the home where Harmony previously lived with her father and stepmother, Adam and Kayla Montgomery, for a call unrelated to Harmony in January 2020. Harmony was not present, as she had been during prior DCYF visits; the report says Adam Montgomery told the child protection worker that Harmony was living with her mother instead. However, the report suggests that DCYF failed to make sure that was true.
While DCYF attempted to call Harmony’s mother, Crystal Sorey, to confirm that Harmony was living with her, they struggled to make contact. According to the report, “Sorey never returned the call and there is no evidence in the record of any additional attempts to contact her.” State officials did not answer questions from NHPR about why DCYF did not make more of an effort to connect with Sorey to verify Harmony’s location.
DCYF received two more reports about the Montgomery household, not involving Harmony, in January and March 2021.
"When the [child protective service worker] inquired about Harmony Montgomery, Adam Montgomery stated again that she was still living with her mother, Crystal Sorey, and that he had not seen her in a year," the report said. It's unclear whether the state took any additional steps to reach out to Sorey at that time.
The new report also reveals that, while New Hampshire authorities first announced Harmony’s disappearance in December 2021, DCYF received notice that she wasn’t with her mother — as they had been previously told — three months earlier.
The report says that DCYF received a call from a close contact of Harmony’s mother in September 2021, stating that Harmony’s mother had not seen her for nearly two years. From there, the report says DCYF attempted to locate Harmony, her father and her stepmother. The Manchester Police Department got involved in the search in November 2021, and authorities didn’t announce that Harmony was missing until December 31, when they made contact with her father.
State officials did not respond to a question from NHPR about why it took nearly two months to involve law enforcement in the search for Harmony and why officials did not announce that Harmony was missing sooner.
The report also describes earlier missed opportunities between New Hampshire’s child protection agency and Harmony’s family.
According to the report, New Hampshire’s Division of Children, Youth and Families failed to conduct a home study on Adam and Kayla Montgomery, Harmony’s father and stepmother, before a Massachusetts court placed Harmony in their care in 2018. The report says New Hampshire child protection workers didn’t have enough information to initiate the home study and sought more information from their counterparts in Massachusetts before embarking on that process. However, the report says New Hampshire officials were notified that the court awarded the Montgomerys custody of Harmony without completion of the home study.
State officials declined to elaborate on the steps they took to seek out information about the requested home study when asked by NHPR on Friday. They said the state has released as much information as it can at this time, and certain information must be legally withheld.
About seven months later, in the summer of 2019, a New Hampshire child protection worker visited the Montgomerys’ home several times in response to a call alleging potential abuse involving Harmony. State officials declined to say whether they had additional contact with the Montgomery family prior to this time, when asked by NHPR.
The child protection worker ultimately determined that the allegation was unfounded but identified the family as “high risk,” according to the report, “citing the history of substance use, prior family history with child protection, and economic challenges.” While the report says DCYF shared information about housing support services with Adam and Kayla Montgomery, it’s unclear what steps, if any, the agency took to ensure that the family sought out additional help.
State officials declined to share more information about whether they followed up with the Montgomerys to make sure they received recommended support. However, the report notes that the family might have benefited from a program that was implemented in 2021 to provide help to at-risk families that have involvement with DCYF but no evidence of abuse or neglect. The report also suggests increasing the use of this Community Based Voluntary Services program in future cases.
After reviewing past interactions between New Hampshire’s Division of Children, Youth and Families and Montgomery’s family, state officials acknowledged in the report that they should do a better job communicating with other states about child protection cases, update their case management system and keep child protection caseloads as low as possible.
The report also said the state should update its policy to require DCYF to “to require confirmation of the residence of all children who are known to be members of a household, including one who is alleged to have moved from a family.”
“In the event the new caregiver is unresponsive, enlist the support of local law enforcement to complete a welfare check in order to ensure the welfare of the child,” the report advises.