Karen Clince – The Founder Of Tigers Childcare

We love catching up with inspirational women. This time we had a pleasure to meet Karen Clince, the founder of Tigers Childcare, and find out about the importance of Early Years Education.

Who is Karen Clince? 


Karen Clince is founder and chief executive of Tigers Childcare, one of Ireland’s largest childcare providers.

She has 19-years experience working in the childcare sector, starting in 2003 when she set up Ireland’s first after-school childcare facility to cater for the growing number of working parents seeking flexible childminding options. Since then she has expanded her services to provide pre-school and full day care.

Today over 2000 children attend Tigers Childcare 14 centres located in the greater Dublin area and London and employing over 215 people.

Karen is actively involved in the childcare sector at industry and government level, advising and helping direct policies on childcare and early years education. 

Why did you decide to set up Tiger’s Childcare?

I started in childcare in very unconventional way. I had left school and studied marketing. While I always had a love for children, I wanted to focus on a career that would be more financially rewarding than teaching and childcare seemed to be. 

I worked in the marketing department of a software house and really didn’t take to it. Fortunately I was made redundant during the time of the first dot com downturn. At the time I was only 20 and expecting my first child and so I had to refocus. 

I decided to retrain in special needs teaching and after qualifiing I took up a role in a primary school and just loved it. It was during my time working in this school that I could see the gap in the market for school Aage childcare soo I approached my very kind principal and asked if I could set up a childcare service within the school. He kindly supported me by giving me space for free, and that is where the Tigers journey began. 

On day one I had 3 children – Adam, Andrew and Robert – which grew to thousands of children coming through the various facilities I’ve openedsince.

Why is it so special?


I think what makes Tigers Childcare so special are our core values and how we treat people. Our ethos drives the business and differentiates us from others in the market. 

Our main aim is to provide best developmental outcomes for children and families through excellence in care and education. We achieve this by living by our core values value every day. These are known as TIGERS LEAD and we believe by holding all who work in Tigers Childcare accountable to these values at every stage, we earn our ‘Tigers Stripes’!

Our core values are Teamwork, Integrity, Growth, Excellence, Relationship and Support  (TIGERS) along with Leadership, Empathy, Accountability and Diversity.

Why are those first moments at the nursery so upsetting for children and parents?

It is so normal for children to become upset when leaving parents for the first time. It’s all about attachment and emotional development. It can be a very distressing time for both the parents and child. 

It is therefore so important that parents are supported in understanding what is going on.

Young children are very attached to their main caregivers, which in the first months of life is typically their parents. They use those closest to them to test out new experiences and the world around them. Your baby in essence trusts you and knows you will keep him or her safe. When they enter a new environment, even when a parent is there, they will be unsure. You will often see that they will explore, but will often look back for reassurance and to know this new environment is safe. When the parent leaves, the child becomes unsure. Their safety barometer is gone and so they become upset. Children from the age of 6 months to 4 years will get upset and look for reassurance in new environments.

The good news is that this process – if done correctly i- s not damaging and in fact helps them develop socially and emotionally. Children from 6 months can form strong attachments to other caregivers like, for example, childcare professionals in a nursery. The important part is that the child is assigned a caring and patient key worker who will get to know the child well. It is also important that the settling in period isn’t rushed for the parents or child and that all are given plenty of time to feel comfortable.

I always think it is so hard for parents to leave a distressed child and have to go off to work for the day. What they don’t see is that once they leave and the child is distracted they usually settle quite quickly! It is actually much harder on the parent and so at Tigers we believe it is just as important to settle the parent. Giving parents time and explaining what is going on helps build trust and partnership.

How parents can prepare their little ones and themselves for the nursery?


Make yourself as familiar as possible with the setting. Make a list of questions that you want to know far in advance of any settling in period. The more comfortable you can get as a parent the easier the transition will be. 

Remember 80% of communication is non-verbal and babies are experts in picking up on this. A baby will know if their parent is not confident with the setting.

Get to know what will be expected during the settling in period. Will you have time to be in the child’s room? How long should you stay and when should you take your queue to leav? How long will they allows for a settling in period? The more you know the more confident you will feel. A good quality setting will allow you lots of time to become comfortable.

Take time to get to know the key worker and share as much as you can about your child. Let them know their feeding and sleeping routine and how you comfort your child- songs they might like or how they like to be rocked. The more you tell them about your child the more they will get to know them personally. 

If English is not spoken in your home it may be good for the key worker to have some common words in your home language to use.

Make sure the setting has some photos of you and your family. Most settings will have a family photo area. When children are only learning to communicate this can be really helpful. They can point to your picture as a queue to talk about how you will be back soon.

Ask the service how they will give you daily feedback and updates on your child’s day and broader development. At Tigers Childcare, we use an online app called Childpaths that updates parents in real time. It also allows parents the opportunity to add pictures and comments from home.

If your child is upset when you leave you can ask the setting to send you a picture of them when they have settled. This is always helpful in letting you know they are ok.

If you ever feel upset, unsure or concerned about the settling in period, remember it is your right to ask questions.

Why are those first moments at the nursery and early years education so important for child’s development?

90% of who we are and what we know is set out in the first five years and so it is now known that these years are vitally important to a child’s future. 

It is in these years, as our brain is evolves, that we set down who we will become. It has been show that children who attend good quality childcare settings benefit from this. 

These setting focus completely on their development and the environments are prepared exclusively for their needs. 

It is also important that childcare professionals treat the children in a manner that allow them to explore and think and question. This type of holistic child-centred environment makes learning fun, meaningful and memorable.

We can think of early years as the foundations of a house – the stronger the foundations the easier it is for the house to weather the storm. 

We are putting in the building blocks – not just academically but socially and emotionally – teaching children to learn in their own unique way. Where the early years building blocks are strong, a child is set up better and is more able for life ahead in every sense.

It is also incredibly useful for children who hit a bump in the road or have additional needs.  These can be spotted by professionals early and interventions can be put in place to address these, while the brain is still developing.

Longitudinal studies have now proven the impact of good early years education on children and society as a whole. Governments are also starting to take note as there is a huge cost saving to the exchequer in the longer term where early interventions and supports are in place.

It should also be noted that while good quality early years education benefits all, the positive effect is tenfold for children of marginalised communities or poverty.  

So while our government takes note, they need to make sure all children can attend early years educations- not just those from 2 to 3 years of age.  The earlier and longer children can attend the better for both the child and society.