Cinema History from the Cold War!

Infant and Child Care

Office of Civil Defense
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
1965

An enemy nuclear attack on the United States would have forced millions of Americans of all ages to seek refuge from radioactive fallout.  In 1962, anticipating a prolonged interruption of standard medical services in the wake of such an attack, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Office of Civil Defense developed the concept of Medical Self-Help to train fallout shelter occupants in the treatment of basic ailments with no expectation of aid from physicians or nurses.(1)  The two agencies published an extensive booklet addressing several health issues likely to arise after a disaster.  Eleven supplementary films were released in 1965, with each film corresponding to a chapter in the booklet.(2)  As the tenth installment in this series, Infant and Child Care examines the unique problems presented by having very young children in the cramped confines of a shelter.  As the physical health of newborns often requires special care and equipment which would not have been part of standard government shelter supplies, the film highlights a number of improvised solutions for heating formula, creating a makeshift incubator and sterilizing station, and dealing with neonatal diseases such as thrush.  For older children and teenagers, the focus is on coping with the mental anguish and upheaval brought on by a nuclear attack and subsequent shelter stay, ideally through distractions such as games, toys, group activities and useful work under the close guidance of parents and other adults.(3)

                                 

Set entirely within an industrial basement which also serves as a public fallout shelter, the film opens to several shots of different families, each sitting in a tight group and each with young children.  The incredible stress of a nuclear attack, a voice-over narrator explains, may likely induce early labor in expecting mothers.  While the concept of emergency childbirth is the subject of the eleventh and final film in the Medical Self-Help series, an equally important problem is the care of premature babies, whose body heat mechanisms are not fully developed and so must be constantly warmed.  In such a situation, ideally an incubator can be fashioned from cardboard boxes, hot water bottles, and newspaper insulation.  If water is rationed only for drinking purposes, at the very least, the premature baby should be kept shrouded in a woolen blanket.  A regular newborn infant requires similar care and should be kept isolated as much as possible to avoid germs.  Any bottles, feeders, droppers, and thermometers to be used on a newborn must be thoroughly sterilized with boiling water.  For toddlers and older children, germs are less of a concern than emotional health.  Infant and Child Care focuses on their need for attention, activity, and a sense of belonging.  Great patience is needed for children under the age of six because shelter living may result in a regression to the actions of a younger being, or isolationist behavior.  This can be overcome with the use of simple games and small activities to keep children occupied.  In addition to giving frequent hugs and physical contact, mothers are encouraged to ensure that all children present in the shelter are involved in such activities to prevent feelings of loneliness and reclusive behavior.

                                      

"The child growing into his teens is entering into the most difficult period of his life."  Special consideration must be given to teenagers or "teeners" as the film refers to them.  Shelter life may give teeners an inflated sense of responsibilty, causing them to act as they believe an adult would.  In an awkward scene, an adolescent gets frustrated and snaps at several young children.  To curb such frustrations, teeners should be put to work completing physical tasks.  Several teens are shown moving heavy metal water drums, all while under the watchful eye of a shelter manager.  In its closing moments, the film stresses the importance of family during times of emergency.  Such togetherness, it is implied, will not only help Americans endure a trying two week shelter stay, but will let them emerge from the shelter ready to rebuild the nation following even a severe disaster.  A final shot of a peaceful family, huddled around the cots and blankets which now constitute their home, accentuates this attitude well.  Infant and Child Care, along with the other ten films in the series, was primarily developed by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  This makes it difficult to determine if federal authorities declared it obsolete in the years following its release like many other contemporary civil defense productions.  The Medical Self-Help program which the film was designed to supplement would be diminished due to budget cuts in the late 1960's though it would continue well into the 1970's.(4)

Infant and Child Care may be viewed, in its entirety (though in black and white), HERE.

References
1. Office of Civil Defense.  1962 Annual Report.  United States Government Printing Office, 1963.  62.
2. Office of Civil Defense, U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare.  Family Guide Emergency Health Care.  U.S. Government Printing Office, 1963.
3. Office of Civil Defense.  1964 Annual Report.  United States Government Printing Office, 1965.  57.
4. Office of Civil Defense.  1965 Annual Report.  United States Government Printing Office, 1968.  113.