A Study in Regulatory Method, Local Political Cultures, and Jurisprudential Voice: The Application of Federal Confidentiality Law to Project Head Start

This article focuses on one particular set of issues raised by the effort to coordinate the activities of Head Start centers with those of substance abuse treatment programs and the introduction of treatment and prevention functions into the daily interactions of Head Start staff and parents. These issues involve the disclosure of potentially damaging information about a Head Start parent’s drug or alcohol abuse and the confidentiality considerations that arise when she or he has sought or received treatment for that abuse. Although it is possible to characterize these issues as technical, doctrinal questions of statutory and regulatory interpretation, it is also possible to understand them as questions of jurisprudential method that implicate the relationship between legal theory and practice. Stated simply, the problems arise because the system of statutes and administrative regulations governing the confidentiality of drug and alcohol treatment information assumes that treatment programs will be structured as conventional social service agencies, but most Head Start centers are organized around, and deeply committed to, a very different set of institutional values. Thus, though the governing law with respect to confidentiality within the drug and alcohol abuse treatment system depends upon clear delineations between professionals and nonprofessionals, counselors and clients, individuals and families, the daily practices and operative premises of many Head Start centers reject these dichotomous categorizations and the values these distinctions express.