For children everywhere, growing up is inevitable. For kids from inner-city neighborhoods riddled by poverty and gang activities, it can happen too fast.


    37% of third-graders
    read below the “basic level”
  • need3

    It costs taxpayers $221,000 for every high school dropout

Filling a Special Need

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March 2001

Cabrini-Green was one of Chicago’s poorest housing projects, plagued by drugs, gang violence, neglect and generational poverty. Currently, an estimated 2,500 kids reside in Cabrini-Green and nearby Marshall Field Homes.


September 2005

Tucked among landfills, industrial parks and a sewage treatment plant, Altgeld-Murray is a dangerous, isolated area with open drug markets and frequent shootings—and little for kids to do.


September 2007

Recognized as being a center for drug trafficking, Austin’s homicide rates are among the highest of Chicago neighborhoods. Austin is also home to 117,527 residents, including 35,576 children.


September 2008

There are approximately 2,500 vacant buildings and 200 empty lots in Englewood. There is also an abundance of children living in Englewood, surrounded by gang activity, drugs and prostitution.


37% of third-graders read below the “basic level”

Success in school — and life — begins with literacy. Children struggling to read in third-grade are four times more likely to drop out of school than proficient readers — eight times for black and Latino children living in poverty, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test.


Nearly 40% of Chicago Public School students drop out

The dropout rate is even higher for the 29% of CPS students who live in extreme poverty—kids from Chicago’s most under-resourced neighborhoods, where schools are underfunded. Kids are 70% more likely to drop out if they fail between kindergarten and third-grade.


It costs taxpayers $221,000 for every high school dropout

If a high school dropout moves into a life of crime and drugs, it costs taxpayers $1.7 to $2.3 million. Seventy percent of prison inmates cannot read above a fourth-grade level, making reading levels predictive of future incarceration rates, according to the US Department of Justice.


A disturbing trend is for children as young as eight years old to be involved in gangs

Low expectations and poor performance in school put kids at risk for joining a gang, as does living in poverty and proximity to gangs. Gang members account for 77% of homicides as of September 2012, according to the Chicago Police Department. Most victims are blacks, who account for about 33% of the city’s population and 75% of its homicide victims.


The poorest neighborhoods have homicide rates 10 times that of affluent neighborhoods

In a recent school year, 83 school-aged children were murdered. Most often, these crimes are committed during the hours immediately after school—the most dangerous time of day for a child.


One of every three children in Chicago lives in poverty, which is on the rise

Affecting mostly residents of under-resourced neighborhoods on the south and west sides of Chicago, poverty is a significant barrier to academic success. Many can’t afford to buy books at all. In fact, it’s difficult to even find books available to purchase in the poorest areas, according to a study of low-income neighborhoods that found a ratio of one book for sale for every 300 children.


80% of inner-city kids grow up in female-headed families

Children who grow up apart from their biological fathers are six times as likely to be poor, according to the US Census Bureau. They are also less likely to receive help with homework from an educated adult at home. The absence of academic support can create an environment in which the student lacks the motivation to study and succeed.


Up to 25% of all school-age children have vision problems significant enough to impair academic performance

Approximately 80% of all learning during a child’s first 12 years comes through vision. Underscoring this, visual factors were the primary cause of reading failure during an evaluation of beginning readers in a public school. Another study of inner-city youths found that poor vision is related to academic and behavioral problems among at-risk children.


Roughly one out of nine children aged 9–11 has untreated decay in his or her permanent teeth

Children with recent tooth pain are four times more likely to have a low grade-point average than children who do not have dental pain, according to a recent study. Untreated tooth decay can have far-reaching effects on a child’s performance in school. Dental problems may also lead to difficulty eating, speaking, socializing, sleeping and poor overall health.


Nationwide, 25% of children do not have consistent access to enough nutritious food

Medical research has shown that lack of nutrition can permanently alter a child’s intellectual capacity and ability to learn and interact with others. Even nutritional deficiencies of a relatively short-term nature have a negative effect on a child’s academic performance and behavior, according to a Tufts University study. Other studies have confirmed that hungry children have lower math scores, are more likely to repeat a grade and come to school late — or miss it entirely.