* The aim of this study was to explore and describe parents' perceptions of staff competency in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The study set out to use a grounded theory approach that was modified because of a number of constraints. Eight parents whose babies met a number of inclusion criteria were interviewed using focused conversational interviews. They were then transcribed and thematically analysed. The research approach was modified as the study developed because of practical and ethical access reasons: the sampling strategy and lack of opportunity to exploit fully the constant comparative method. * Four key themes which conceptualize competency as caring emerged from the data: parents are facilitated to integrate into the unit and do not feel a burden; parents feel in control whilst in the unit; parents have a choice to opt out from observing tasks and procedures on their baby; parents and the interprofessional team communicate well and provide appropriate information. These are discussed in the context of available literature. * In conclusion, the results of the study serve to highlight how parents' perceptions of competence in a professional are not based solely on skills and tasks but on many caring behaviours. The grounded theory approach has generated a number of areas for exploration, in particular, ideas about the conceptual basis of caring in an NICU context and its links to competence. The caring behaviours involve learning to share responsibility with families. The findings suggest that when there is 'a handing over' of control to parents and a greater emphasis on parent support, they feel less like 'guests'. These ideas are supported by the available literature. A number of methodological issues are raised.
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