OKLAHOMA CITY -- The turnover rate of child welfare workers at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is slowing, but officials with the agency say the rate is still too high. Last year's turnover rate was about 44 percent, but DHS officials say the trend is moving in the right direction thanks to a reduction in caseloads and a new bonus plan. DHS currently has the highest percentage of child welfare specialists with at least two years' experience than it has had in several years, said agency spokesman George Johnson. Of the 1,100 front-line workers, more than 700 have at least two years' experience, compared to about 500 in 2005. Caseloads for many child welfare specialists also have been reduced from about 35 to 20 in the last decade in Tulsa. "People coming in now are beginning to gain stability, but we still have a high turnover rate on both ends, people with lots of experience who are retiring and people coming in are brand new," Johnson said. Department officials say a print media job-posting campaign has helped the department increase its pool of qualified applicants and that a probationary process has helped determine if the job is a good fit for new employees. They also say a $4,000 bonus plan put in place with the Legislature's help has helped convince more entry-level child welfare specialists, who must have a college degree and make $28,573 to start, to stay on the job. The reality, Johnson says, is that being a child welfare specialist is tough work. Child welfare specialists are, in effect, case managers who interact with families, attorneys, law enforcement, the judicial system and DHS staff, and who, in the end, often make life-changing recommendations to the court. Nancy Robison, a DHS child welfare field liaison for Tulsa County, thinks of the job "as a calling." "First and foremost, they want to do right for the kids, but it's a very demanding job" she said. ___ Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.