Protection of Women and Children in Soviet Russia


A Manual of Methods for Working with Children of Creche Age, written by Faivonsinovitch, is the most recent and most complete Soviet publication regarding the theory and practice of child care in Russia. The author gives in his Appendix three practical outlines to be followed in the daily routine of a creche; and most of the creches in Moscow follow much the same procedure he suggests. Consequently it is justifiable to use his outlines as examples of the average creche programmes. However, it must be kept in mind that doctors and psychologists of each individual creche have the right to alter the routine as they see fit for the Russians are well aware that in such a thing as child training no hard and fast rules can be adhered to because there is not only a difference in children but there is also a difference in home conditions and in parents, all of which must be considered when deciding on a daily creche regime. Since the Government is too poor to erect special buildings for nurseries, it is forced to make use of any houses which may serve such a purpose. These houses naturally differ from each other with the result that each creche has to follow a slightly different routine in order to adapt itself to its particular building. These physical variances must be always kept in mind in spite of the fact that on the whole, the programmes are so similar that there is little use in attempting to distinguish between them.

Every creche accommodates in each shift from fifty to one hundred and twenty children ranging in age from one month through three years. The number of children cared for is determined by the size of the building in which the creche is located for there are always more applications for entry into the creches than can be handled. There are three main groups of children in each creche: Those who are less than one year old; those who are from one to two years; and those who are from two to three years of age. Each of these groups is handled separately and by different people. However, there is no definite change in routine as the children go from one group to the other, because the Russian psychologists do not think that it is good for children to have any too pronounced changes in their lives. For this reason, they make the transition a more or less gradual one by getting them thoroughly accustomed to their new nurses and teachers before they are allowed to leave the old.

Most of these nurseries are connected with factories. Because nearly all of them in the cities are for the benefit of working women who leave their' children on their way to work. The creches open before seven-thirty in the morning as the first shift [Note: Not all factories have two or more shifts but since the speeding up of the Five Year Plan most of them employ several groups of workers and when that is the care there are always two day time shifts which may hire female labour. The first begins at 7:30 A. M. and lasts until 2:30 P. M. The second begins at 3:00 P. M. and lasts until 10:00 P. M.] of the Russian working day starts then. All mothers, regardless of which shift they work on or of the groups to which their children belong, take them to the reception room of the creche at the appointed time, undress them, hand them to the nurses in attendance, and put their home clothes in individual lockers which are placed in the reception room for that purpose. The mother's duties to her child are then over for the working day unless she is nursing her baby, in which case she returns at regular intervals.

The nurse who receives the child naked from the mother wraps it in a clean sheet, weighs it, and takes it to one of the doctors, at least two of whom are always in attendance during reception time. If, after a brief examination by the doctor, the child has or shows symptoms of any contagious disease, it is immediately taken from the creche to a children's hospital where it is cared for until it is well again. No child with any contagious disease, no matter how mild, is allowed to remain in a creche; and a child who has been ill with a contagious disease is only re-admitted with the approval of the doctor in charge. If the child seems to be suffering from some minor complaint which is not contagious, such as indigestion, abnormal temperature, etc., it is isolated in the creche infirmary until it recovers. Should the child be dirty or have fleas or vermin, the mother is sent for and they are both sent home. The child is not re-admitted to the creche until the home has been inspected and found clean, nor is the mother allowed to return to her work. Naturally such a system has cleaned up the living quarters of the working people in a more effective manner than could anything else. But hygienic measures do not stop with seeing to it that each home is cleaned out and kept clean because it is explained to the women why cleanliness is so important by trying to make them understand how they can benefit by prophylactic surroundings.

In the office of each creche, which is the headquarters of the nursery doctors, a complete medical record of each child is kept. Each day the general condition of the child is very briefly recorded and the temperature is marked on a graph. Along with this medical record is a fairly detailed account of the birth of each child, including a medical history of the mother.

The children of the creche are divided into three separate groups, each with a different daily regime according to their age and development. Thus, after their examination by the creche doctors these children go with the nurses to the groups to which they belong. Often there are divisions to each group so that never more than twenty children are together even though there may be fifty in the group. These divisions are very convenient, for the rooms of the creches are often not large enough to accommodate all the children of any one given group; and also it gives the psychologists a chance to experiment with various groups of children whose home environmental are all more or less similar. In addition small groups are advantageous because of the experimental stage of the nurseries as yet and it is considered wise that the children have very personal contact with their nurses and teachers.

When those children who are under seven or eight months of age have been examined by the doctors they are taken by the nurses to their bedroom, always a kind of sleeping porch where the windows can be thrown open so that the maximum amount of fresh air can be had. The idea of sleeping in a room where there is an open window, especially in the wintertime, is a new one to Russia. It used to be that when the fall came the people sealed up their windows so that the cold could not enter, and as a result their houses were always too warm and the air bad. The custom is still prevalent but such social organisations as these nurseries are doing their best to dispel this ancient idea on the grounds that it is not hygienic, a reason which acquires more and more weight as Russian adults become educated.

All of the children in the first group are nursing babies unless, of course, the mother is not able to feed her child, in which case it is fed from the bottle or, on occasion, by a wet nurse. The schedule for the first group beg-ins with a reception which includes the undressing of the child by the mother, medical examination, sponge bath, and dressing in State-owned creche clothes. Each child in this group is then put to bed and given a toy, usually a brightly coloured ball suspended over the crib. When at 8:45 the children have all been washed, dressed, and put to bed the toys are taken away from them and they are left to go to sleep for an hour. After the morning nap is over the younger babies are fed by their mothers who come from the factory to the creche for that purpose. At 10:30 they are again put to bed and are provided with toys before they go to sleep. Each child, depending on its development, individuality and age, is given a set of two to three toys which are changed at various times during the day. These I noticed were either balls or rattles suspended above the babies' cribs in such a way that they could hit them and kick them or leave them alone as they desired. The older and more developed of this group are often given rings suspended above their beds which they grab and use as a means for lifting themselves to sitting postures. At one o'clock all the mothers whose children are in this group come to the creche to feed them and to eat their own lunch. When they arrive they take off their dresses and put on one of the creche-owned doctor's aprons and sit either in a special feeding room or in the reception room. A nurse swabs the nipples of their breasts with a piece of cotton dipped in alcohol and then hands the baby to its mother. The women bring their lunches to the creche but are not allowed to eat until after they have nursed their babies. During this lunch hour, there are always several nurses and at least one doctor in attendance in the feeding room to answer any questions which the mothers might ask. The mothers talked continually with those in attendance, making remarks about the looks of their children and showing a great interest in their general welfare. Those mothers who could read were shown the babies' medical charts, and all were given advice on how to carry on the creche regime when they had their children at home. This friendly and intelligent relationship between the mothers and the creche employees is exceedingly sensible, for the educational value alone of such contacts cannot be overestimated. Most of the women, of course, still wanted their children to wear swaddling clothes, objected to their being washed so frequently, and above all, resented their sleeping in rooms with the windows open. This feeding hour, therefore, is the time when the nurses and doctors explain to the women why they do not treat children the way they were treated before the Revolution. They try to show the mothers how much healthier the babies are now because of the difference in the care they receive; and through all such instruction, the women are made to see the advantages of the Communist attitude towards women and children. In fact, when I was once congratulating one of the creche managers on the simple and effective way in which contact with the mothers of the children was kept up, she answered: "It not only helps us in our dealing with those children in our care but it is one of the most effective means of propaganda for women's rights as it now exists in our country." The furthering of propaganda for women's rights would hardly seem valuable to us for we would perhaps consider the practical benefits of such contacts to be more important. But in Soviet Russia, women's rights is not just a theory which, though admirable in itself, goes little farther than an idea; it is a functioning reality which, in order to fulfill its true purpose, must be advertised and practiced so that it may become known, understood, and used in all its phases by the women of the U. S. S. R.

When the mothers return to their work, the children spend the rest of the time until 2:45 at play with the same toys they were using before they were fed. All those children who are over three months of age spend this period out of their beds on a raised enclosed platform where they play with their toys and enjoy greater freedom than in their cribs. At 2:45 they leave with their mothers, should the creche be on the shift system, otherwise they are put to bed and allowed to sleep until their mothers' working day is over. Should they wake up too soon the older ones are put back into the enclosed pen with their toys, while the younger ones are given their toys in their beds.

This regime is very simple and is not different from the one used for children of that age all over the world wherever there is a systematised daily routine in the nursery. The fact that their daily routine is never varied is undoubtedly good for their health and it seems also that it is good for their dispositions for I seldom heard any babies crying except those who were ill in the infirmaries. However, when a child does cry they do not try to stop it by pampering but simply let it cry itself out in spite of the fact that when one child begins to cry, all the other babies immediately follow suit.

As soon as a baby has learned to crawl, which occurs usually at the seventh month, it is changed to the second group and remains in that group until its fourteenth month. Education, as we understand it, really starts at this time for after the seventh month a child reacts more or less consistently to the various phases of its environment. In other words, it uses its muscles in definite ways as the result of given stimuli. The Russian psychologists argue, therefore, that the most important time in a child's life in which to instill the concepts of materialism, activism, and collectivism, is when it reaches the crawling age. This education involves little more than the formation of good living habits which will be of value to society as soon as the child takes his place in the world.

Similarly, in the second group the mother brings her child to the creche on her way to work, undresses it in the reception room and hands it to an attending nurse exactly as did the mothers with babies in the first group. It is worth mentioning here that the mothers do not sit down when they undress their children for there are high tables for this purpose placed around the walls of the reception room of every creche. These tables are also used by the mothers for dressing the children when they take them home at night. A superficial physical examination is also given each child in this group; then unless he is ill, in which case he either goes to a hospital or to the infirmary, [Note: Each creche has a small infirmary where any children who are ill or under suspicion can be completely isolated from the other children. Each morning during the medical inspection those who show any symptoms of contagious disease are immediately sent to a hospital. However, a child who has a temperature or who shows other signs of a minor upset, is immediately isolated in the infirmary until he again becomes normal. A graph of each child's weight is kept in the infirmary along with a detailed account of the effect of the child's diet and his general health. Since the Russian children. especially those who live the regular creche life, are seldom ill, there are never more than four beds in the infirmary of any creche and these are almost always empty. I can only remember seeing one child over eighteen months of age in an infirmary and he was there because of indigestion.] the child is taken to the bathroom. He is first put on a chamber, and as soon as he urinates he is given a shower or sponge bath. Then he is dressed and put in the playroom until breakfast which occurs at 9:30. Many of the creches in Moscow have the bathroom and the toilet room combined for the sake of conserving space, but some of the new creche buildings designed especially as nurseries, have separate bathrooms, shower rooms and lavatories. In any case, each child has his own small cupboard in which his soap, toothbrush, sponge and towel are kept and another locker where his individual chamber is kept.

The children very soon learn to know which is their locker, for above each one is pasted a different brightly coloured geometrical design. Each child has the same design above the place where his clothes are kept, and on the shelf which holds his spoon and dishes. Then when he joins the third group, he no longer has the same design but is given a picture of an animal or a flower as his symbol. As these older children are learning to talk, they do not call each other by their names, but rather by the names of the animals or flowers which their symbols represent. For example, a child who has a picture of a bear on each of his various lockers will be called "Bear" by the rest of the children.

As soon as a baby begins to crawl he is taken from the first group and put into the second, where he stays until he is about fourteen months of age at which time he joins the third group where he remains until he leaves the creche. The regimes of the first and second groups do not differ greatly except in the matter of sleep. Children in the second group sleep approximately four hours a day and those of the third group only three. As to play, there is much more directed and organised occupation in the third group than in the second, mainly because the older children are better able to concentrate. However, as soon as a child goes into the crawling group he is given toys which will enable him to cope with his immediate environment. In the chapter dealing with "Play," I have gone into such training in detail, giving the types of toys and the methods of teaching used as well as the results they are expected to produce.

All creche regimes are primarily based on a medical interpretation of the children's necessary physical functions. It is first determined how often and when the children should be examined by doctors, washed, made to eat, excrete and sleep. Periods for work and play are then planned to fit into the remaining time. This is the logical way of developing a creche regime, for the care of the health is the first concern of any nursery. Such care is especially necessary in Russia where the fight against child mortality is very important to the future of the country. In common with Soviet ideas on life, health is not only considered for health's sake but it is treated as a phase of education which will in the end tend to produce a functioning Communal society. Health is, therefore, a matter of education; and since most of the modern ideas on health hygiene are totally different from those held by the adult Russian population, it is not only necessary to see that the children live according to a schedule which is calculated for their best physical advantage, but also that their parents be educated to understand and follow that schedule when they have the children in their care.

For this purpose the creche sends out representatives to visit the homes; these representatives are trained nurses and doctors especially schooled in child care. They make regular fortnightly visits to the homes of all the children in the creches. During these visits, their first duty is to note the living conditions and to suggest changes when necessary. This, of course, is a measure to safeguard the health of the children as a group. Since these home visitors care for the children during the daytime and know the children individually, they are in a position to answer any questions put by the parents and to advise them as they see fit.

As yet there is not a great surplus of child experts in Russia but already creche employees have found it possible to know fairly intimately the neighbourhood in which their creche is located. In so doing, they attempt to visit all homes where there are young children and suggest to the parents of children who ate not in creches that they visit their local "Museum of Mother and Child" so as to learn the simplest, easiest, and most effective way of caring for themselves and their children. Such suggestions are sometimes followed. Somewhat at variance with the experience of home visitors in the United States and England, most parents in Russia are willing and anxious to learn all they can especially regarding their children. It is hard to say just why they do not seem to resent such suggestions from total strangers, unless it be that in Russia there is no such thing as charity for it is the worker, the highest person in his social group, who has first access to all social organisations such as clinics, hospitals and creches. Therefore, when people receive an invitation to avail themselves of any of these organisations and to use the information which can be had there, it probably increases their social prestige and is, therefore, an honour. Perhaps another reason why they welcome such suggestions is that wherever the Soviet Government actively exists, there seems to be an intense desire for learning, especially among the younger people and they do not hesitate to take advantage of any possibilities offered them. As Mr. Hindus says in his book, Humanity Uprooted, the Russian has always considered himself the lowest and most unworthy of all mortals; and so, with the sudden onslaught of Western ideas it is natural enough that the younger people should desire to change this opinion of themselves. Home visiting is such an important educational factor today in the U. S. S. R. that it deserves special and detailed consideration.