Baby drinks poison

The incident

A small city near Budapest.  A child of about 2 years old drank some reagent. The ambulance was called. When we got there we found the house on the outskirts, the house was in total ruin. There are many adults everywhere.

The child plays calmly. We talked to the parents (a Roma mother, a white, Hungarian father – he just got home from work).

They were irresponsible, they should have protected the child, who barely could walk.  We took him to the hospital. Before we left it was my task to talk to the parents, to look for the causes, to communicate with the mother – a young woman of about 18 who still looks like a child.

1. Identities of the actors in the situation

The paramedic: Man in his 30s, lives in Budapest, middle class background, 10 years of professional experience. Not married, no children

Mother (surrounded by family): Around 18 year old, Roma (we do not know from which group), living with her partner (non Roma Hungarian), extended family, one child, living in a small city. Geographical origin: we do not know. No official employment, working class (visible poverty). We do not know if her husband works.

The professional is a man, double of age of the mother, a white Hungarian, member of the majority society, in his role of responsible helper in the face of the “irresponsible” mother.  There is hardly anything that brings the actors together, not even the situation focused on the child, because when the ambulance arrives the child is calm and does not seem to be sick. The two protagonists represent in the eye of each other radical difference.  The relationship is not only distant but also hierarchical, the professional having the upper hand in all the aspects (except of the fact that he is in the intimate space of the family)

2. Context of the situation

The situation occurred in the family home, where the ambulance arrived as an intruder (although it was called). The staff ask questions, examine the child and investigate the circumstances. The child seems ok, but he is taken to hospital for further checks. The father accompanies the child and the mother stays at home. Before the ambulance leaves, the mother is reprimanded by the paramedic as she was alone with the child when the incident happened. (She was asked what happened and what she did: she gave water to the child to drink and then asked family members to call the ambulance). The father arrived at home more or less at the same time as the ambulance.  The house is in a bad shape, the poverty is obvious.

3. Emotional reaction

Pity, contempt, irritation. Frustration as the mother does not seem to understand what he tells her. Also, surprise as nobody seems to be traumatised – not even the child.

4. Representations, values, norms, ideas, prejudice: The frame of references of the person who experienced the shock.
  • Child care: a child should always be watched and protected, because he/she is vulnerable, and prone to put themselves in danger. A caring parent would know this and should be efficient in protecting their child. Protection also means organising the home in a way that the child does not come into contact with dangerous material or substances.
  • A home: should be organised and tidy. Tidiness of the home proves the competence of the woman as a wife and a mother. A home in ruins reflects untidiness and potentially the presence of troublesome people.
  • Parenting: there is an age for child birth (certainly not before 18), it is a conscious choice of two people who are mature enough to take responsibility for the education of their children. Having children before this age or in a bad economic condition is a sign of irresponsibility. The parents therefore are seen irresponsible. This is the frame of interpretation in which the incident is accounted for.
  • A family: is made of a father and mother and a child. Responsibility of raising a child is shared between the two parents. Others if they are around are not competent.
  • The situation: the child is still in danger, as he was exposed to a harmful substance, even though he does not show signs of being sick. For completeness he has to be taken to the hospital.
5. What image emerges from the analysis of point 4 for the other group (neutral slightly negative, very negative, "stigmatized", positive, very positive, real, unreal) etc?

Negative, patronizing, reprimanding.

6. Representations, values, norms, prejudice: The frame of references of the person or group that is causing the shock / that caused the shock in the narrator.
  • A family is composed of a number of persons, older members have authority on the younger ones. Responsibility to raise a child is shared between adults.
  • Parenting: A child is considered protected as long as he is in the space of the family. He does not require additional protection (he has certain autonomy).
  • The situation: The child was momentarily in danger, he is not any more as he does not show signs to be sick. The ambulance is therefore unnecessary when it comes and the paramedics are making a big fuss about not much, just to show off.
  • The image of the Other: They are behaving in an arrogant way, distributing lessons and pretending that “we” or “I” am at fault. (They are probably racist?)

(The rejection of the authority of the professionals on the basis of  non-professionality and racism probably means that their advice will not be followed anyhow)

7. Does the situation highlight any problem concerning the professional practice, or in general about the respect of cultural differences in intercultural situations?
  1. The respective cultural lenses of the protagonists do not allow them not to observe the other as a radical stranger. In such situations conscious efforts might be made by the professional to bridge the gap. Protecting the face of the other by recognizing that he/she is a good parent otherwise might help.
  2. After all, the mother made the ambulance come. She behaved in this case very responsibly. This fact may be recognized.
  3. The professional is not giving a professional advise but a moralizing one (you are a bad parent, I will teach you how to be better), it is extremely difficult to leave this tone, as it belongs to the person, it demand strong self-reflection and a conscious effort to leave it or mitigate it.
  4. A pronounced social hierarchy often creates space for a patronizing gaze that the professional must be aware of.
  5. Speaking to the right person is essential in a foreign social setting. An individualistic bias often does not allow to recognize the relations in an extended family. This vision is based on a nuclear family model, prevalent in middle class urban environment as opposed to an extended family model prevalent in rural and poorer societies.
  6. Not to forget: the aim is not to “punish” the failing mother but make sure that certain precautions are taken in the future in the house.