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Elizabeth M.Z. Farmer

Dean, School of Social Work, University of Pittsburgh

Betsy Farmer is dedicated to improving systems and services to more fully and adequately meet the needs of youth and their families. Her work for the past 35 years has focused on youth with mental health disorders, particularly youth who are served across multiple sectors of the child-serving system, with an emphasis on understanding patterns and pathways through the service system, improving quality of services, and supporting long-term positive outcomes for youth. She began her career as a house parent in a group home with young adults who had both mental health and intellectual disabilities. She and her husband also served for 5 years as therapeutic foster parents and respite care providers within the Willie M Program in North Carolina for youth with mental health issues and aggressive behavior. Her academic work builds from these experiences, combined with her academic interests in life course trajectories and the ways in which service systems intersect with and influence these pathways. During her academic career, her work has included epidemiologic, services, and intervention focused studies supported by NIMH and other federal, state, and foundation funding. Farmer brings a strong interdisciplinary lens to these issues, and has held faculty positions in social work (at Case Western, VCU, and Pitt), health policy (at Penn State), and psychiatry (at Duke) across her career. Her core program of research has focused on improving quality of treatment and care in Treatment Foster Care and group homes. A portion of this work resulted in development of an evidence-based model of TFC, Together Facing the Challenge, that is now implemented in TFC programs across the nation. Her ongoing work focuses on improving supports for families of youth with mental health problems and working collaboratively with community partners to improve systems, policy, and practice.


o Dean, University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work

o Bachelor’s degree: College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA

o Master’s Degree: College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA

o Ph.D.: Duke University, Durham, NC

o Leadership Pittsburgh, Class XXXVI

o American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (fellow)

o Board of Directors, Allegheny Family Network

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