THERE are fears that Pembrokeshire could lose a specialist service that helps children cope with bereavement.

Sandy Bear, based in Neyland since 2015, has been supporting young people dealing with grief for two decades.

But due to Welsh Government funding cuts, the future of this important service is at risk.

Pembrokeshire County Council, which buys in the service from Hywel Dda Health Board’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing service, has been told it will lose £170,000 in government funding next year.

Last year, Youth Justice grant funding was reduced by £65,000, and further cuts of at least £45,000 are expected for 2016 -2017.

As a result, the council has told the health board it “may not possible to continue the current service level of funding to the service” – although it has stressed a final decision has not yet been made.

Ros Wild, from Milford Haven, used Sandy Bear when she was seven, and again as a teenager, and said the service helped her “massively”.

She told the Western Telegraph: “I can honestly say if it hadn't been for Sandy Bear I don't know what kind of state I would be in,” she said.

“The first time it helped me to understand what had happened.

“I had never lost anyone before.

In my head it was like this person who I had loved and had seen every week my entire life had gone and wasn't coming back.

“It gave me a way to say goodbye with understanding and meaning.

“When I lost someone again as a teenager I went back. Although I knew what had happened it affected me differently.

“I became very depressed. It gave me coping strategies and acted like a support group.

“I met people I could speak to and actually understood where I was coming from with what I was feeling.”

More than 3,000 people have already signed an online petition to save the service, started by Johnston mum Nina Evans.

When her husband died in 2011, her five-year-old son George struggled to come to terms with what happened.

George has a condition called verbal dyspraxia, and found it very difficult to express his feelings, said Nina.

“Sandy Bear came to see him every week, doing different activities and helping him express himself through art and making things like a memory jar and bracelets,” she said.

“They talked to George and explained how his daddy had died.

“George also had a fear that I would go to work and die too, and Sandy Bear worked with George to turn that fear around.

“I would hate to think where we would be now without their support.

“It was a hard enough ordeal dealing with grief myself.

“Sandy Bears made sure my boys didn't have to suffer any more than necessary.”

It is understood that Sandy Bear currently employs two members of staff, who are supported by a team of volunteers with a background in health, education and social services.

The health board has said it is currently looking at how it can continue the service, and that all staff members are aware of the ongoing review and are being supported.

Libby Ryan-Davies, director of mental health and learning disabilities, said: “The health board is undertaking a review of the current provision of bereavement services in Pembrokeshire to ensure that the services provided meet the needs of the local community, are safe and evidence-based.”

The county council has emphasised that all county secondary schools have access to a counsellors, and the council is also developing a new role of emotional and learning support assistants in schools.

“Any final decisions will take into account the range of emotional support services which are in place for children and young people in the county, of which Sandy Bear is one,” a spokesman added.

Sandy Bear was first launched in response to a recognition that many children with unresolved grief issues went on to develop serious behavioural, emotional and mental health issues.

In 2006, it was estimated that 60 children would be referred annually, but by 2009 this had risen to 158, with the health board describing it as a “victim of its own success”.

Described as a “unique and innovative” service within Pembrokeshire, it received development funding in 2006, allowing it to take on two staff members.

A report by the health board concluded that a minimum of two staff members would always be required, “to enable groups to be held and provide peer supervision”.

To sign the petition, click here or visit and search ‘Save the Sandy Bears’