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Philadelphia Youth Network promises changes in Work Ready program after summer of complaints

Leaders at the city Office of Children and Families said their oversight will be particularly vigilant now that concerns about not paying youths have surfaced.

Lil' Filmmakers employs teens who work over the summer to learn the ins and outs of filmmaking as part of the Work Ready program.
Lil' Filmmakers employs teens who work over the summer to learn the ins and outs of filmmaking as part of the Work Ready program.Read moreJulian Moore Griffin

After four years of being a camp director, Tamia Pettus has told the kids that she won’t be returning next summer. A season of headaches to get her teen workers paid through the city’s Work Ready program has left the Parks and Recreation instructor fed up.

If she wasn’t watching one of the 30 children at her Cherashore Park camp in Fern Rock, she says, she was desperately emailing and calling the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) to get her people paid. Seven of her eight teen workers, she says, didn’t get any money until after their six-week summer job was up.

“As a provider I tried my best to make sure they had a good summer,” she said. “The whole camp would have gone better if I didn’t have that hanging over my head.

Work Ready, a program operated by PYN, has found itself at the center of complaints this summer from Philadelphia youths, their parents, and program providers they’ve pledged to support. The leaders of six organizations wrote last month to PYN, a Center City-based nonprofit, to express their frustration that many of their teens, who are embarking on their first jobs, were not being compensated as promised.

To date, Pettus said, one teen still hasn’t been paid. Pettus said she had been emailing and trying to reach PYN to resolve the issue before school started but it has yet to respond.

“I don’t want any person, let alone a teenager with his first job, to ever feel like ‘I work for free,’” she said.

Multiple parents and providers reached out to The Inquirer to share similar stories of their teens not being paid, being paid late, or experiencing other issues with their summer work after an Inquirer Aug. 22 article detailed some providers’ complaints.

All teens who have not been paid who are in PYN’s payroll system will be paid by Friday, vowed Farrah Farnese Roma, vice president of programs at PYN. She said less than 0.1% of the 7,233 teens in their system — about seven workers — have yet to be paid. So far this year, PYN has distributed about $8 million, she said.

“The program is growing even in the face of challenge and transition,” Farnese Roma said, adding that participation is above pre-pandemic numbers.

» READ MORE: “It is unfortunately kind of an open secret among providers.”

PYN has vowed to make changes. It is also aiming to introduce direct deposit for the teens next summer to try to fix some of the payment issues. The organization has also made changes so that if teens don’t get checks on time, they no longer have to wait two weeks for the next scheduled pay period.

Farnese Roma says she wants to clarify the lines of communication as well: Providers are invited to speak to her directly about problems as a way to try to resolve some of them. A core advisory team has also been created consisting of some of the providers.

Vanessa Garrett Harley, the deputy mayor for the Office of Children and Families, said she is concerned about the complaints. For fiscal year 2023, the office gave PYN approximately $7.9 million in state and city dollars for Work Ready, which funds about half the salaries Work Ready pays.

Since being appointed in April, Harley said she heard of a few complaints of teens not getting paid and worked with PYN to get those issues resolved. She was not aware that children not being paid was a wider problem. She had been the city’s deputy managing director of Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

“I’m going to be more particularly vigilant and concerned now that we heard the issues of this year, in terms of monitoring and making sure that PYN is performing at the level that we are paying them to perform with the contract,” she said.

Harley noted that she still has a lot of confidence in PYN.

“We believe that hopefully with all of the remedies that were put into place to the issues that arose, we should not see the same issues again,” she said.

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