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Elizabeth M. Z. Farmer, Ph.D.

Associate dean for research and professor

Email: efarmer4@vcu.edu

Phone: (804) 828-0410

Postdoctoral fellowship, Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Ph.D., Duke University

M.A., College of William & Mary

B.A., College of William & Mary


Betsy Farmer, professor and associate dean for research, focuses on children’s mental health services. Farmer’s research builds on her background in sociology and mental health services research, as well as her direct care experience as a treatment foster parent and group home parent. Her program of research explores youth pathways through the child-serving sectors (e.g., mental health, child welfare, special education) and how services can be improved to enhance youth outcomes and trajectories.

During her career, Farmer has worked on a wide variety of studies locally, regionally and nationally. This has included large-scale epidemiologic studies of mental health problems and service use, evaluations of local and national initiatives to improve care and a series of National Institute of Mental Health-funded studies on improving services and outcomes for youth in out-of-home treatment. Her NIMH-funded program of research has included studies on treatment foster care and group homes, with a particular focus on filling gaps in the knowledge base about current practice in “usual care” settings and how to improve treatment to improve outcomes and alter trajectories for youth. This work has included development, testing (via randomized trial) and dissemination of a new evidence-based approach to training and consultation for treatment foster care. This model, Together Facing the Challenge, showed significant improvements, compared to “usual care” treatment foster care, on both practice and outcomes and has now been recognized nationally as an emerging evidence-based approach by the California Evidence-based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare. Training and dissemination of Together Facing the Challenge are currently occurring in programs across the United States.

Farmer’s team has also recently completed a quasi-experimental study of group homes to explore what actually occurs in such settings, factors related to positive outcomes, concerns about iatrogenic effects, and whether adherence to a specific model of treatment results in better outcomes. Findings from this study of licensed programs suggest that group homes, overall, result in significant improvements for youth and that adherence to a promising model of treatment (the Teaching Family Model) are related to improved practice and sustainability of outcomes after discharge. These results contributed to the Teaching Family Model’s recent addition to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.

Farmer’s current work is building from these lines of research to more fully understand the practices, contexts, and processes that underlie observed outcomes and to improve post-discharge planning and services to sustain and continue positive trajectories once youth leave out-of-home treatment.


Selected publications

Farmer, E.M.Z., Murray, M., Ballentine, K., & Burns, B.J. (2017). Would we know it if we saw it? Assessing quality of care in group homes for youth.  Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 25, 28-36.

Farmer, E.M.Z., & Lipold, M.A. (2016). The need to do it all: Exploring the ways in which treatment foster parents enact their complex role. Children and Youth Services Review, 64, 91-99.

Farmer, E.M.Z., Wagner, H.R., Burns, B.J., & Murray, M. (2016). Who goes where? Exploring factors related to placement among group homes. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 54-63.

Seifert, H.P., Farmer, E.M.Z., Wagner, H.R., Maultsby, L.T., & Burns, B.J. (2015). Patterns of maltreatment and diagnosis across levels of care in group homes. Child Abuse and Neglect, 72-83.

Brenner, S., Southerland, D.G., Burns, B.J., Wagner, H.R., & Farmer, E.M.Z. (2014). Use of psychotropic medications and patterns of service use among youth in treatment foster care. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 666-674.

Farmer, EMZ, Mustillo, SA, Wagner, HR, Burns, BJ, Kolko, DJ, Barth, RP, Leslie, L (2010). Service use and multi-sector use for mental health problems by youth in contact with child welfare. Children and Youth Services Review, 815-821.

Farmer, TW, Farmer, EMZ, & Brooks, DS (2010). Recasting the ecological and developmental roots of intervention for students with emotional and behavioral problems: The promise of strengths-based perspectives. Exceptionality, 18, 53-57.

Farmer, E.M.Z., Burns, B.J., Wagner, H.R., Murray, M., & Southerland, D.G. (2010). Enhancing “usual practice” Treatment Foster Care: Findings from a randomized trial on improving youth outcomes. Psychiatric Services, 555-561.

Farmer, E.M.Z., Southerland, D.G., Mustillo, S.A., & Burns, B.J. (2009). Returning home in systems of care: Rates, predictors, and stability. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 17, 133-146.