Using 11 nationally representative surveys conducted between 1993 and 2005 this paper assesses the extent to which the vulnerability of orphans to poorer educational outcomes has changed over time as the AIDS crisis deepens in South Africa. This paper seeks to establish whether the fear that extended families are no longer effective safety nets may be overstated or whether traditional coping strategies are indeed breaking down. Patterns of care giving for orphans do appear to be shifting over time but these changes are taking place within the extended family safety net. Orphans are still absorbed into extended families but single orphans are increasingly less likely to live with the surviving parent and there is an increasing reliance on grandparents as caregivers. At every point in time cross-sectional evidence suggests that orphans are at risk of poorer educational outcomes with maternal deaths generally having stronger negative effects than paternal deaths. Paternal deaths are strongly associated with poorer socio-economic status and much of the deficit experienced by children who have lost a father is explained by the relative poverty of their current household. In contrast maternal deaths appear to be directly associated with poorer schooling outcomes rather than channelled through socio-economic status. The results in this paper suggest that parental involvement and relatedness to the household are among the multiple pathways through which parental death affects a child’s schooling. Despite a significant increase in the number of orphans over the last decade this paper finds no evidence of a systematic deterioration in traditional coping strategies with respect to orphan’s educational outcomes.