The duty under section 17 is to assess the needs of the child and “need” in section 17(10)(a) includes situations in which the child is unlikely to maintain a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of services by “a” local authority. There is therefore no requirement that the need should co-exist with the physical presence of the child in the authority’s area: Stewart v Wandsworth  EWHC Admin 709 (paragraph 29.Relevant guidance has been given to authorities by the Government in Working Together to Safeguard Children - A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (March 2013). Working Together states that the purpose of the assessment is:
- to gather important information about a child and family;
- to analyse their needs and/or the nature and level of any risk and harm being suffered by the child;
- to decide whether the child is a child in need and/or is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm; and
- to provide support to address those needs to improve the child’s outcomes to make them safe (para.27).
In R (AB and SB) v Nottingham City Council  4 CCLR 295 Richards J held (at ) that at the end of the assessment process “it should be possible to see what help and support the child and family need and which agencies might be best placed to give that help”. The Judge went on to criticise the assessment and plan in that case on the grounds that “there was no clear identification of needs, or what was to be done about them, by whom and when.” .
A lawful assessment must plan for the future foreseeable needs of the children: R (K) v Manchester (2007) 10 CCL Rep 87 at : “A lawful assessment under section 17 of the Children Act must necessarily examine not only the immediate, current circumstances of the child concerned but must also look to imminent changes in those circumstances.”