State & Local Programs

Cultural Sensitivity in Your Publications

The image which your program projects is made up of a number of components. Perhaps the most tangible of these is the "look" of your publications. A piece that is typed, photocopied and stapled carries a different message from one that is designed, and printed on quality paper in 3 or 4 colors with photos. Try to produce as professional a piece as possible within your budget. Additional information about "who you are" will be gained from both the content and the pictures.

Photographs are obviously one of the first ways someone may get an impression about your program. The American advertising industry was incredibly slow to begin showing ethnic and racial minorities in their ads.

This held true for the TV and film industry as well, and continues to be the subject of debate and negotiation. When people of color were employed, it was often the case that they portrayed stereotypical characters. It has taken a lot of sensitizing to break down some of the barriers.

CASA/GAL programs are community based. The notion that programs should reflect the community they serve carries over to who is pictured in publications. As everyone in child welfare knows, abuse and neglect cross all boundaries -- economic, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious. Photos should show that.

Getting photographs of children for use by your CASA/GAL program can sometimes be a challenge. Budget can be a constraint. You may be able to find a photographer willing to do some pro bono work or there may be a photographer on your board happy to help out. But finding the children to serve as models can be difficult. Some people, in and out of the field, may be uncomfortable having their child pose for photos for an organization concerned with abuse and neglect. Assuring them that you only use models, never children from real cases, may not alleviate their concern and of course, you must respect that. After you've used all the children of willing staff, your friends' children, and your relatives' children, you may be at a standstill. Some photographers may be able to secure models at no cost -- children who are trying to build up their portfolios and are happy to do a shoot if you'll provide them with a good photo. You may be able to find a photographer willing to sell you "stock" photography -- photos you can buy for 1 or 2 time usage.

Sometimes, if the photos are from a few years back and the children are now older and aren't as recognizable, it may be easier to get a "release" from the parent or guardian.

A critical thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn't give in and take the easy way out -- that is, if you're able to get pictures of children from people you know, but there is no diversity in that group -- don't give up trying to get that mix of children. On the other hand, don't restrict your photographs to minority children. This can convey a message that minority communities are the ones with abuse and neglect problems. This same sensitivity should extend to your photos of adults, as well. Volunteer and board recruitment in minority communities will be a lot easier if your program is perceived as already having a volunteer from that community. Certainly all kinds of diversity can't be reflected in a photograph -- but it's one place to start.

The image of your program may have its most powerful and persuasive effect in your audio-visuals. Videos, slide shows and TV public service announcements (PSAs) are tools to increase public awareness and the images used in those will remain in people's memories. People today are visually sophisticated. They are used to getting a lot of information by looking. Again, the message of who you are and what you are about will be conveyed by who appears in the pieces. Be inclusive, be reflective of the community.

The graphic design of your materials can also reflect your program's commitment to valuing diversity. You may have specific projects that would greatly benefit from the work of a designer reflecting a minority culture. For example, a poster or calendar, or cover of a brochure, could include Native American or African American art.

Language is another important way in which sensitivity to cultures and diversity can be expressed. The simplest example of that is not always saying "he." Some people use he/she or she/he while others may intersperse a "he" or "she" throughout. Without getting into the thick of the argument around gender-based or gender-less language, the point is again, to be aware of your community.

Always capitalize the title of ethnic or cultural groups -- i.e., Latino, Asian, etc.

Review all publications to see that they include a minority perspective. When working with other staff members on publications specific to their areas of responsibility (fundraising, brochure, training booklet, etc.) keep that sensitivity in mind. Make ALL your publications follow your guidelines, rather than thinking of only certain pieces as needing to be "diverse." Make sure all the language in your publications, whether written by staff or free-lancers, is reflective of the ethic of valuing diversity.


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