ATLANTA – Gov. Nathan Deal, in his 2017 State of the State address Wednesday, recognized the difficult and important work of state child welfare workers, and commended the dedication of Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) case manager Michelle Dorris, whose work saved the life of an infant in her community.

Dorris, a 14-year case manager from Telfair County, intervened in July 2016, when an infant, who had been reported to the Division as a victim of neglect, came into distress. Her instincts to follow up with the family and her quick action to provide emergency medical care saved the infant's life.

Gov. Deal invited Dorris to attend the State of the State address, citing the dedication of DFCS case managers and the importance of retaining experienced workers to achieve positive outcomes in child welfare cases.

"This is the type of meaningful impact that case workers have on those that they serve," Deal said in his remarks. "These are the types of challenges that they face."

To help the Division retain experienced case managers such as Dorris, Deal has proposed a 19 percent pay increase for Georgia's child welfare case managers. Currently, Georgia’s starting salary of $28,005 for child welfare case managers ranks below nearly all states in the Southeast, with the exception of Louisiana.

The salary, coupled with the stress of the job, contributes to the Division’s 32 percent to 37 percent turnover rate, and is one of the top reasons staff say they leave the Division, according to exit interviews.

Retention rates for the Division have a direct impact on the safety of children in Georgia. Dorris cites her more than a decade of experience as a case manager for her decision to follow up with the infant’s family outside of routine. Dorris, who had been assured by experts that the infant had no medical issues, made an unplanned visit to the family to check on the infant. When she arrived, she saw that the infant did need medical care, and took action to get the child there in her car. During the 35-mile drive to get medical help, the child stopped breathing. Dorris performed CPR until medical staff arrived.

“What Ms. Dorris did that day is reflective of the actions of case managers every day in the state of Georgia,” said DFCS Director Bobby Cagle. “These jobs are extremely difficult and require a commitment to working long hours and managing complex family dynamics. We are fortunate to have leadership in this state who recognize the importance of retaining experienced staff.”