Budget amendment would create Harmony Montgomery Commission

Senator seeks to launch child welfare working group

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. 

“This is something that should be moved immediately so we can start addressing issues in the system right now that could put any other children in jeopardy,” Moore said. “We need to address it before another tragedy happens.”

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.

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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.”