Americans are adopting fewer babies from home and are increasingly turning abroad, where infants are more readily available and adoptions can be less complicated, according to a new report.

More than 17 percent of children adopted by American parents in 1996 were born abroad, the National Council for Adoption said this week in a report that showed the number of foreign adoptions has more than doubled this decade. For infants, children under 2, international adoptions accounted for nearly a third of the total, the report said.

Meanwhile, between 1992 and 1996, domestic infant adoptions fell by 11 percent, a decrease experts attribute in part to fewer single mothers giving babies up for adoption.

The council, a private group that advocates adoption, based its report on a survey of the states and data from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Adoption figures are notoriously hard to obtain, and the new report is among the most comprehensive to date, experts said.

The report examined 54,496 adoptions in 1996 involving U.S.-born children and found that more than half came from the foster care system. Overall, adoptions of American children edged down from 55,706 in 1992, according to the council, which did similar surveys in 1982, 1986 and 1992.

At the same time, about 11,000 children were adopted from other countries in 1996, up from 6,500 in 1992, the report said. By last year, the number of foreign adoptions topped 15,000.

In 1992, international adoptions accounted for just 10.5 percent of all unrelated adoptions, those that do not involve family members. By 1996, that had risen to 17.5 percent.

While there are more American children born to unmarried parents than ever before, more single mothers are opting to keep their babies, leading to a shortage of infants available for adoption, experts said.

That is particularly true for unmarried white women, said Madelyn Freundlich, executive director of New York-based Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. In the 1970s, about one in five unmarried white mothers gave babies up for adoption. Now, it's less than 1 percent, she said.

"The stigma of being a single parent in most quarters of this country no longer carries the weight that may have been true a decade or two decades ago," she said. "It's just a very different environment."

At the same time, fueled by well-publicized horror stories, some prospective parents worry about complications with U.S. adoptions, such as when birth parents change their minds after agreeing to an adoption. Such battles often end up in court.

"The attorney could simply say--and they do say: 'Hey, domestic adoption is too risky. We can get you a healthy kid from Russia or China in six months,' " said William Pierce of the National Council for Adoption.

"They say, 'I don't trust the courts, I don't trust the American system. I want to adopt from another country.' "