Using a longitudinal telephonic survey of adults, this paper provides empirical evidence from South Africa on early childhood care and education (ECCE) attendance trends just before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 39\% of adult respondents living with children aged 0–6 indicated that at least one child had attended an ECCE programme in February 2020. After a period of ECCE programme closures and lockdowns, estimates fell to as low as 7\% in July/August 2020, partially recovered to 28\% in November/December 2020, dropped again to 7\% in early February 2021 but then recovered significantly to 36\% by April/May 2021. A decomposition analysis suggests that a large part of the recovery in ECCE attendance in 2021 was attributed to higher reported perceived ability to be able to afford ECCE programme fees. This could relate to lower fee ECCE programmes resuming operations in anticipation of government relief payments.