Bongani Mahlaula has been looking after his orphaned niece for a year, but he has not managed to get a foster care grant of R980 per month transferred to him.
Researchers say delays like this are common because of a shortage of social workers to handle foster care grants, GroundUp reports.
The child's mother and father died in 2006 and 2011 respectively.
Mahlaula's mother was the foster parent until she died in October 2017. After her death, the foster care grant was stopped.
Mahlaula, 35, who earns a living from odd jobs, now cares for his niece. He applied to the provincial social development department for a transfer of the foster care placement to him last November. He has been waiting since then to hear from a social worker.
He says he provided all the documents he was asked for, including a certified copy of the child's birth certificate, her parents' and grandmother's death certificates, his own ID, and a form signed by the child's school principal.
He says a social worker promised to do a home visit, but has not.
"My last contact with him was in March when he made the same promise, but until now I have not heard from him."
Spokesperson for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Social Development Ncumisa Ndelu told GroundUp she would investigate.
She said the transfer of a foster care grant was not automatic. The person who wanted to be the new foster parent would have to undergo all the same checks and balances as the former foster parent in order to be deemed suitable, she said.
Paula Proudlock and Katharine Hall, senior researchers at the Children's Institute at the University of Cape Town, said delays like this in the transfer of foster care grants, as well as applications and extensions, were "highly prevalent".
They said there were 400 000 children in a system "designed for 50 000 to 100 000 children" and not enough social workers. In addition, the system did not sufficiently take into account "informal kinship care".
"In South Africa, we have a uniquely high number of orphans compared to every other country in the world, so we should be designing a unique solution," Proudlock said.
The researchers said, while the child support grant of R410 a month could be processed in three working days; the foster care grant required much more administration and could take one to two years.
An application for a foster care grant involves a social worker investigation and home visit, obtaining an order from the Children's Court, and the processing of the grant through the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa).
The transfer of a foster care grant does not need a court order, but does require a social worker investigation, home visit and a report.
Asked whether Mahlaula would be able to claim the grant retrospectively for the last year, Sassa spokesperson Kgomoco Diseko said: "Retrospective claims can be made if the delay was on Sassa's side...however the family in this case is advised to apply for social relief of distress in the form of food parcels from Sassa."