Joan van Niekerk was born near Bristol England, and spent her early years in a small village community called Shirehampton. She moved with her family of origin to South Africa and completed high school in Durban.
Joan qualified as a social worker in 1970 with a B Social Science, and returned to University to complete an Honours degree in Social work in 1974. In 1983 she completed a M Medical Science (Psychiatric and Medical Social Work) with a specific focus on family therapy.
She began her professional career as a probation officer, then worked as a social work therapist at a drug and alcohol treatment centre, and then moved on to teach Social Work at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and part-time private practice.
In 1987, Joan researched the needs of abused children in South Africa, and concluded that the biggest gap in child protection services was the absence of treatment facilities for abused children and their families. Together with a colleague, the Child and Family Treatment Centre was initiated, which in 1991 combined with the National Crisis and Counselling Call Centre (Childline). Joan was invited to take on the leadership of this combined service.
With the advent of democracy in South Africa, and the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child by (the then) President Nelson Mandela, the reform of domestic legislation relating to children became a priority. Joan was then appointed by the South African Law Reform Commission to chair the Project Committee on Sexual Offences on and by Children.
Joan was voted onto the ISPCAN Council in 2006, and re-elected for a second term of office in 2012.
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