The state Civil Service Commission on Wednesday approved a hazardous duty pay supplement for child welfare workers investigating abuse and neglect complaints.

State Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Ruth Johnson sought the up to $2 per hour premium pay, citing a high job turnover rate in a work environment that she said “can be hazardous, complex and stressful.”

Over 70 percent of the agency’s front-line investigators have reported being victims of violence or threats of violence in the line of duty, Johnson said.

Wanda Raber, the agency’s human resources director, told the commission that there is an annual 30 percent turnover in the “child welfare specialist” jobs, which have a starting pay of about $27,600 annually.

The agency hires a lot of people with master’s degrees to meet national accreditation standards.

Many soon leave for other less-stressful jobs in state agencies and the private sector, Raber said.

“The clients we are involved with see the worker as an intrusion in their private lives and having the authority to take a child away if need be,” Raber said.

The state workers often find themselves in the middle of domestic disputes and often work in high crime neighborhoods, she said.

“We just can’t get the qualified staff we need to do it long term,” Raber said.

Denise Fair, deputy secretary of operations of the children services agency, said officials hope that the potential $2 an extra will help keep existing employees and aides in recruiting other staff to move over into investigation duties.

D. Scott Hughes, a Civil Service Commission member from Shreveport, said the 30 percent turnover spoke volumes about the need for some financial incentive for hazardous duty situations.

Commission member Lee Griffon, of Baton Rouge, said the premium pay could mean as much as $5,000 more annually for some employees. “So that’s a nice little bump,” he said.

Commission member Kenneth Polite Jr., of New Orleans, said pay is one thing, but he wondered whether the agency was “getting to the root of the issue — violence.”

“What is the agency able to do to protect them?” Polite asked.

The child protection workers get training in safety precautions, mediation skills, and confrontational techniques, Fair said.

And if there is a real concern about potential violence, interviews have been scheduled in law enforcement offices, she said.

According to the agency, daily occurrences involving acts of violence and stress to which the child protection investigators are exposed include:

• Stalking and intimidation.

• Verbal abuse and threats.

• Being shot at while removing an infant from harm.

• Endangered while investigating homes containing meth labs.

• Knife pulled on staff.

• Death threats and physical harms against them and their family.

• Angry, violent and frightening behavior toward them.