6yo has bounced around more than a dozen foster homes

In an image on her cellphone, Moe Leary held a laughing Marie, the child the Leary family hopes to adopt. Marie’s outbursts terrified her new parents. The 6-year-old threw furniture. She howled obscenities and gave them the finger. She hurled things at them while they drove. Moe and Hollis […]

Marie’s pain and fury were long in the making. Before coming to live with the Learys in Florida in February, she had been shuffled among at least 11 foster homes in Massachusetts while her mother, recovering from drug addiction, fought to keep her. For nearly four years, she’d lived in limbo, whisked away as a toddler from her mother and handed off to an assortment of relatives, family friends, and strangers.

All the while, the state’s Department of Children and Families vacillated on whether to reunite Marie with her mother, or free her up for adoption in Florida by the Learys. The couple dreamed of their daughter growing up with a younger sister.

As months and years went by, Marie devolved from a happy-go-lucky toddler to an out-of-control 5-year-old seething with anger and grief. She was expelled from two Massachusetts day care centers, and had such a violent tantrum in school that her kindergarten had to be evacuated.

Marie’s precarious home life, documented by the Globe through state records, personal files, and e-mails shared by family members, and interviews, is all too common for Massachusetts foster children. Massachusetts takes longer than most states to decide how much time is reasonable for parents to pull their lives together, and how long a child should wait for that often-elusive stability. The opioid crisis has prolonged the indecision: Social workers, hoping for a parent’s recovery and a family’s reunification, hesitate to turn to the “nuclear option” of terminating parental rights, even as they fear the toll that uncertainty can take on a child’s mental health.

Such delays, specialists say, can have the biggest implications for the littlest children, who desperately need to form attachments in their first few years of life…

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