In Extremis: Parental Neglect in It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown


Translation for children: The following is for entertainment and is not legal advice. Please seek independent counsel before waiting all night in a pumpkin patch for an imaginary friend. Also VERY IMPORTANT SPOILERS ahead for a TV Special older than some kids’ parents.

It’s Halloween again, but you wouldn’t know it from looking outside your window. Instead of cute little trick or treaters, it is an old man that smokes on his porch, staring into your window while his mask hangs off his chin. Whatever you celebrate, be it Samhain, National Unity Day (India), or John Candy Day (Canada),(1) it is a magical time where we all await the coming of one mythical being above all: the GREAT PUMPKIN.

But what if I told you It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) is much more insidious then you remember? You’d likely say, “It is a fun 25 minute tv special about a boy’s power of belief in a magical being that was supposed to do an unexplained thing which we assume must be good.” I would counter, “BUT WHERE ARE THE PARENTS?!” and then I would engage in my legal duty to call child protective services.(2)

So what is so egregious about the film that I would claim that child protection was required? It is not Lucy claiming she signed a document that wasn’t notarized allowing her to pull the ball away from Charlie Brown, which is wrong on every level. It is, rather, that Linus’ parents allowed him to wait outside in the freezing cold till 4 am for the Great Pumpkin. He would actually have been out all night had Lucy not woken up and brought him back into the house.

Charlie Brown takes place in Hennepin County, Minnesota.(3) It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was produced in 1966 and child protection laws were different then. The Children's Bureau was founded in 1912 by the Federal Government of the United States, but the bureau did not address maltreatment substantially until the 1960s. While the Social Security Act as amended in 1962, provided funds to expand child welfare services and reports on battered children became released, there was a large push to create reporting requirements for doctors and the first four of which were enacted in 1963. By 1967, all states had reporting laws.(4)

I am going to apply the laws of today as it is difficult to find the historical records of Minnesota’s initial reporting laws and I am watching the special now since it is a “beloved” classic. Under the Minnesota Maltreatment of Minors Act,(5) the following persons have a duty to report in the event of child abuse or neglect:

  1. A member of the clergy who receives the information while engaged in ministerial duties, excluding information exempt under the confessional privilege;
  2. A professional or the professional's delegate who is engaged in the:

      - healing arts

      - social services, including employee assistance counseling, guardian ad litem, & parenting time expeditor

      - hospital administration

      - psychological or psychiatric treatment

      - child care

      - education

      - law enforcement

      - correctional supervision, probation, and correctional services.

Also the criminal law that permits reliance on spiritual means or prayer for health care does not eliminate this reporting duty(7)… *cough* The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005). Now, lawyer does not make the list in Minnesota, so I do not have the same duty I would have in my home province, however education professionals do -- so Teachers, stop WAA WAAAing the next day when Linus explains he stayed up all night for the great pumpkin and report, or it is an offence with a fine and possible jail time.(8)

Neglect is defined under the Act as:

  • Failure to supply necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical care when reasonably able to do so
  • Failure to protect a child from serious danger to physical or mental health when reasonably able to do so, including a growth delay, referred to as failure to thrive
  • Failure to provide necessary supervision or appropriate child care . .
  • Chronic and severe use of alcohol or a controlled substance by a parent or person responsible for the child's care that adversely affects the child's basic needs and safety
  • Emotional harm demonstrated by a substantial and observable effect on the child
  • Withholding medical treatment, including medically indicated treatment from a disabled infant with a life-threatening condition prenatal exposure to speCified controlled substances4
  • Failure to ensure that a child is educated in accordance with state law.(9)

Different courts may interpret the standard for necessary supervision differently -- including the age of the child, the amount of time, and the circumstances surrounding the decision to leave the child unattended. If, for example, you allow your child to go trick or treating by themselves, it is unlikely the police will be knocking on your door. But we can all agree that a 6 year old child sleeping in a pumpkin patch overnight violates the norm for proper supervision and appropriate child care. Based on Lucy’s actions we do not even know if the parents checked on their children all night. It may be a fun gag in Charlie Brown that we rarely see the parents, but this would be neglect in real life.

Now, I do not believe that child protective services are always the best model for dealing with parenting issues or abuse, especially the overzealousness in taking minority children into care.(10) That is why social services providing assistance to parents and not automatically placing the child in case should be used in most situations, unless the safety of the child is in direct harm. In this scenario, a social worker would visit with the parents, inspect the living situation, and likely recommend a course of action to remedy this type of neglect going forward with check-ins to insure the instructions are being followed. But if Linus and Lucy’s parents let him go looking for the Great Pumpkin next year, so help me!

I know I made light of a very serious issue, and I would recommend reading up on these topics further because child abuse is often the scariest thing you’ll witness on Halloween. Now, go have some candy and burn your copy of a children’s film.

0/10 Legal Realism (that notary part bothered me)
3/10 Entertainment (it is like watching kids that are not yours put on a play).

  1. The Canada Press, City of Toronto marks 'John Candy Day' to celebrate late actor's birthday,
  2. The Children and Family Services Act of Nova Scotia, SNS 1990, c. 5, s. 23.
  3. Peanuts Fandom Wiki, Setting, accessed online October 31, 2020,,was%20from%20his%20home%20state.
  4. John E.B. Myers, “A Short History of Child Protection in America.” The APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment, Third Edition, Sage Publishing June 10, 2016, accessed online October 31, 2020
  5. Minn. Stat. § 626.556 REPORTING OF MALTREATMENT OF MINORS, accessed online October 31, 2020
  6. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 3.
  7. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 6.
  8. Minn. Stat. §§ 626.556,subd. 6; 388.051, subd. 2, para. (c).
  9. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 2, para. (t).
  10. I could cite untold articles, but I will go with this one; Patricia Turner Hogan and Sau-Fong Siu, “Minority Children and the Child Welfare System: An Historical Perspective,” Social Work Vol. 33, No. 6 (November–December 1988), accessed online October 31, 2020


Contributor/Actual Lawyer

Adam is a lawyer from Nova Scotia, Canada... that place above Maine beside Anne of Green Gables’ house. He hosts a deplorable show examining the law in sci-fi films called the "Space Lawyers Podcast". Adam enjoys the finer things in life such as "so bad they are good" films (see Leprechaun 4: In Space), pestiferous puns, and his collection of over 365 bowties.