Meet Our Advocates: Stephanie Pham

In honor of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, we’re proud to spotlight Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer Stephanie Pham (Ai Tam), for her outstanding work in LIFTING UP foster youth with disabilities. 

CASA Volunteer: Stephanie Pham (Steh-fuh-nee Fam), also goes by her Vietnamese name Ai Tam (A-ee Tam). She/her/hers

Years of Service with Child Advocates of Silicon Valley:  8

Number of Children Served: 10


Stephanie’s dedication to being of service began through a career in education more than a decade ago. Right after college, she became a paraeducator providing services to students who needed accommodations for their disabilities. As Stephanie became closer with her students and learned about their backgrounds, she realized that many of them were in foster care. 

During school hours, Stephanie worked hard to provide students with a safe environment but realized that the challenge of not having a constant supportive adult and environment outside of school hours hindered them from achieving their goals. Motivated to make a difference in the lives of her students, Stephanie was inspired to be of service beyond the classroom.

“The therapeutic program I work at supports kids with disabilities. In this program, there were so many kids in foster care. When I saw this, as a paraeducator I wanted to do more for them.” 

Initially, Stephanie wasn’t sure how to be more involved in supporting her students, but upon scrolling through Instagram she found an answer. 

“One night while scrolling on social media, I remember seeing an ad about becoming a CASA Volunteer. The ad caught my attention during the time I was a paraeducator. When I saw it, I was able to make the connection that this is the way I can advocate and support my students outside of the classroom.” 


Throughout her time as a CASA Volunteer, Stephanie has served 10 foster youth, most recently working with Nimai*, a non-verbal teenager. Using her experience in education and the knowledge acquired during our training, Stephanie slowly built a relationship that helped her understand Nimai’s communication through facial expressions.  

“Since Nimai is nonverbal, it’s different from working with young kids who are verbal and have more physical energy. With time, I was able to understand his wants and needs based on his facial expressions. I can see his face light up when he’s eating South Indian food or watching Bali music videos. It’s just so different, you can see that he is so happy.” 

By consistently SHOWING UP and providing a safe space, Stephanie was able to not only decipher Nimai’s expressions but also empower him to communicate through different tools. 

“To communicate with Nimai I started using picture icons. When we would go out to eat South Asian food I would have pictures that he could choose from and communicate what he wanted by pointing at it. Nimai would often try not to say the wrong thing, because of his traumatic experiences. Sometimes he would try to be as compliant as possible, and it is something we were working on.”


When Stephanie initially became a CASA, she had doubts about her ability to make an impact on the lives of foster youth. Whenever her foster child would face challenges, she would often ask herself, ‘what am I doing wrong?’ 

“The times I wanted to resign as a CASA Volunteer because I thought I wasn’t doing enough, were usually during the times the kiddos were having a hard time. When the kids are having a hard time, I immediately think it’s me. ‘I’m not serving them, I’m making their lives worse.’ Later, I see them again, and I’m so glad I didn’t resign because when I continue to consistently SHOW UP, I see that’s when they needed me the most.”

Experiencing doubts about doing enough is a sentiment many of our CASA Volunteers initially face.  When volunteers meet their assigned foster youth and hear their stories, a common concern arises, “This kid has been through so much, will anything I do truly make a difference?” 

Having the same concern, Stephanie shares how she overcame her doubts. 

“Initially, throughout my work I was centering myself, thinking of ‘What am I doing wrong? I’m not serving them well.’ When it gets tough, decenter yourself. Always reach out for support, you’re not alone. Since Nimai is nonverbal, sometimes I didn’t know what success looked like.” 

Stephanie’s persistent presence in Nimai’s life led to positive changes in his habits and daily life choices.  At first, Nimai would struggle with walking in groups, following directions in public areas and checking for safety.  Now, because of Stephanie’s commitment, he can experience a variety of activities. 

“When I had initially started to work with him, whenever we would go out he would get a lot of energy and would start yelling or running around. He doesn’t do that anymore. He has also adopted safer habits in his daily life and is more regulated. He is now able to easily go to the library, enjoy books and do art activities.”

Every foster child deserves someone who will make the effort to understand them and LIFT THEM UP.  Nimai was able to seek mentorship and support, because of people like Stephanie, who SHOW UP and advocate for foster youth.  

“Whenever I see Nimai, he is excited to see me and hang out. Because of his growth, each time I see him my mission of being a CASA Volunteer is reassured. My time as a CASA has been meaningful, rewarding, challenging and joyful.”

*An alias was used to preserve the privacy of the child.


Ceramics made by Stephanie. 

TV Show Recommendation(s): Abbott Elementary

Favorite Movie: Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Book Recommendation(s): On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Favorite Music Artist: Frank Ocean 

Favorite Type of Food: Back a Yard – Especially their Jerk Tofu plate.

Favorite Place: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Favorite Hobbies: Making ceramics, drawing, reading, embroidery, eating, and traveling.

Support Foster Youth Today

Here are just a few of the ways you can SHOW UP for foster youth this month: 

  1. Take the first step to advocating for foster youth. Attend an informational session to learn more about becoming a CASA Volunteer.
  2. Support our CASA Program and invest in our foster youth with a financial contribution. You can also check with your company to see if they match employee donations.
  1. Sign up for the 8th Annual Foster5k and Kids Dash, a 5k race in benefit of Santa Clara County’s foster youth. 
  1. Become a Corporate Champion by sponsoring an activity or one of our fundraising events. Email us at to learn how your company can be a part of the solution for foster kids.
  1. Follow us on social media on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.