This article originally appeared on VICE Romania
Two years ago, the children of a Romanian couple living in North London were taken into custody by social services. Their parents, Florin Barbu and Claudia Racolțea, were fighting constantly, which gave their neighbours enough alarm to call in for help to protect the children. They were taken away and last June, the boy and the girl were adopted by a British same-sex couple.
The news hasn't gone down well in Romania; so far it's sparked fierce protests, while it also prompted the children's father, Florin, to go on a hunger strike for a bit. The Romanian Orthodox Church (which represents 80 percent of the Romanian population) spoke publicly about how the children's religious rights are being violated because they were adopted by a gay couple.
With Romanian immigrants settling in Western countries, it can happen that their new Western neighbours take issue with Romanian parents' sometimes harsh or violent Eastern European parenting style. In November last year, the children of a Norwegian-Romanian couple living in Norway were taken away by Norwegian social services. That case also led to nation-wide protests in Romania – mostly organised by Christian nationalists afraid that the children were being kidnapped and brainwashed by heathens.
A homophobic video that emerged in Romania in the wake of Florin and Claudia's children being taken away. It was shared by Florin. Via
Florin and Claudia are now divorced and while Claudia still lives in the UK, Florin has moved back to Romania. I spoke to both of them about how they got to the point where their children were taken away, and why they can't stomach a loving couple taking in their children.
In January 2007, 30-year-old Florin Barbu moved from Romania to the UK to find work. He worked as a construction worker and trained to become a licensed bodyguard and cab driver. He met the then 25-year-old Claudia Racolța online. She had also recently arrived in the UK and initially worked as a nanny before becoming a club bouncer.
Several months after they met, Claudia got pregnant. Their first child, a girl, was born in February 2008 and they had a boy two years later. After a while their family life became strained. "We made mistakes. We argued in front of the children," Florin told me. "She would argue with me over anything. She'd take medication because of a knee injury, and you couldn't reason with her sometimes. When we fought, she'd call the police and they'd arrest me – handcuff me. One time it happened in front of our daughter. They would take me to the station and ask if I had ever been violent to my kids and my wife, and when I'd come home the next day everything would be fine – great even. That would last a month until my wife would throw another tantrum because of her medication. I don't want to badmouth her at all – she's the mother of my children and I want us to work together to get our children back."
Florin and Claudia came to the social workers' attention around 2010 and after frequent visits from them and the police, the children were removed from their home in 2014. One of the reasons cited for this removal was that Florin violated a restraining order Claudia had against him. "I shouldn't have let my husband come back home," Claudia told me over the phone. "They wouldn't have taken the children away if I hadn't. We did it to ourselves: we kept fighting with each other instead of focusing on our children. I spent a year in therapy because of domestic violence."
Claudia is now set to marry a Polish coworker and she says she wants a normal life. She doesn't think her kids are currently living a normal life, with the couple that took them in. "I'm not as concerned for my little girl, as I am for my little boy," Claudia explained. "I think it's an illness to have a different sexual orientation. I don't think it's normal. God didn't create this on Earth. That's my opinion, but I can't judge – God will judge. But my children are with them and we're not aloud to live with them, while I'm not dead and Florin's not dead."
The British couple's identity is kept private, but they did send a warm letter to Claudia to keep her up-to-date. They write that the kids both have their own picture albums with photos of Claudia and Florin and that they remember their parents fondly. The couple encourages the kids to practice Romanian and be proud of their Romanian heritage – they have a Romanian family member who answers all questions the children have. But in Claudia's mind, it's just talk. She plans to take the fight to the European Court of Human Rights.
The question is how far that will bring her. A British court ruled that the children could be adopted after social workers monitored the Barbu-Racolțea family for six years. The court found that it was clear that the biological parents loved their children, but had been unable to care for them in safe conditions. The children were present at their parents arguments, and Claudia was absent from one of the set meetings with her children after they had been taken away. When I asked her about that, she told me: "Yes, that happened once when I went to Poland, to visit my new partner's family."
There are some other incidents in the reports – about how her son had access to a knife, for example – but Claudia denies them all to me. She claims one of the social workers was just out to get her, because Claudia once turned her away at the club where she worked as a bouncer. "I refused to let her in because she had been drinking and her friend was carrying a small bag with white powder. A month and a half later she was assigned to me as my social worker." When reached for comment, social services in London declined to comment on the case.
Romanian authorities have recommended that the kids be placed in the care of the parents' extended families, but British officials rejected that idea – both children were born on British soil and have never actually visited Romania. The parents lost an appeal to the court's decision last month and now mostly try to stir up as much media attention, comments from authorities and protests as they can.
At the moment, Florin risks jail time for making the identity of the couple that adopted his kids public on his Facebook account and posting pictures of them. "You know, I have nothing against gay people – but I don't want them to do anything out in public. How will our kids feel when they see them kissing on the street or holding hands?"
At the end of my conversation with him, Florin Barbu asked me whether I thought he would get his children back. I avoided to give him a straight answer.
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