Budget amendment would create Harmony Montgomery Commission
A week after the state Office of the Child Advocate issued a report about the failure of the child welfare system to protect missing 4-year-old Harmony Montgomery, a state senator is hoping to use the state budget to begin making changes.
Sen. Michael Moore, a Millbury Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, is introducing an amendment to create “the Harmony Montgomery Commission,” a legislative commission tasked with determining the best way to make sure children’s best interests are considered in care and protection cases, when custody is at stake.
The commission would look at racial disproportionality in the child welfare system and also “study how the Commonwealth’s legal provisions can adequately balance the constitutional rights of parents with the best interest, wellbeing, safety, and risk to children, particularly children who have experienced trauma,” according to the amendment language.
Moore said he is looking to the state budget to create the commission because the budget is a must-pass bill, and adding an amendment is likely to result in passage far more quickly than introducing a stand-alone bill late in the session, which would need a hearing and then have to go through the full legislative process. The Senate will debate the budget later this month.
A key finding of the recent report by Child Advocate Maria Mossaides was that the Department of Children and Families, attorneys for DCF and for Harmony, and the Juvenile Court judge focused on Harmony’s parents’ rights at the expense of Harmony’s well-being. A judge gave Harmony to her father’s custody with insufficient evidence he could properly care for her. Her father is facing criminal charges in connection with her disappearance.
One of Mossaides’ recommendations is to create a working group “to hold policy discussions that map how a child’s welfare and best interest considerations are currently presented in care and protection cases and what changes may be needed so that a parent’s rights are appropriately balanced with a child’s needs.”
Mossaides wrote that the working group should be comprised of experts who can engage in a “fundamental policy discussion” about how to balance parents’ constitutional rights with children’s interests.
Moore said he wants to create a working group to fulfill Mossaides’ recommendations. “We’re trying to address the issues that were pointed out in the investigation done by the office of the child advocate,” Moore said.
The large working group would be made up of legislative appointees, the child advocate, a DCF appointee, attorneys (including public defenders), juvenile court appointees, and judges. It would be required to make recommendations by September 30, 2023.
Moore noted that some of the problems Mossaides flagged in Harmony Montgomery’s case are similar to those she flagged regarding David Almond, a teenager who died allegedly due to abuse and neglect by his father and father’s girlfriend. DCF has already made policy changes in response to Almond’s death. “There’s issues with the process right now,” Moore said. “The fact that we have it documented at least twice that the same issue is putting children at risk that are in the care of the state, I think it needs to be addressed.”
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