Despite the growth of cash transfers to reduce poverty, promote child and family well-being and women's empowerment, the gender dynamics and impact of social protection remains poorly understood. We hypothesise that poor female care-givers receiving a cash transfer for their children are better able to contribute to the material and social well-being of their children than female care-givers who do not receive a cash transfer. This paper reports results of a household survey in one of the poorest wards in Johannesburg, South Africa. Structural equation modelling is used to analyse the data. We found that cash transfers increase women's individual income, which is in turn positively associated with increased financial independence, decision-making power over financial resources and decisions about children's well-being. Beneficiaries were more actively engaged in care activities with their children. There are two implications for the insertion of gender and care into social protection policies. First that it is not necessary to attach behavioural change conditions to social protection policies in order to stimulate female care-givers to be more engaged in developmental activities with their children. Second, there is no risk of promoting a maternalistic model of care or ‘maternalism’ in the South African context as the transfer contributes to both women's individual incomes and their financial decision-making power.